BusinessDen Assembly recap: Pandemic expected to increase demand for affordable housing

Clockwise from bottom-left: Mark Marshall, BizDen editor Thomas Gounley, Albus Brooks, Kimball Crangle, and Jeff Martinez. (BizDen graphic)

The demand for affordable housing in Denver, long seen as high, is expected to only increase in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, especially as federal stimulus measures lapse.

“People will be left with significant credit issues, and how we help folks not fall through the cracks because of a moment in time that they’ve been dealt a tough card is important,” said Kimball Crangle, Colorado market president at Wisconsin-based Gorman & Company development.

“We need to come together as a community to make sure we’re not exasperating problems that existed and not allow those on the lower wage spectrum to fall even further,” she said.

Crangle was one of four panelists in the sixth BusinessDen Assembly, an online panel discussion exploring how local industries are navigating the pandemic.

Other panelists in the Thursday event, which focused on the local affordable housing sector, were Albus Brooks, vice president of strategy and business development at Milender White; Mark Marshall, real estate director at Urban Land Conservancy; and Jeff Martinez, president of Brothers Redevelopment.

Cragle, who previously served as senior developer for the Denver Housing Authority, said she expects the city will make some budget cuts that affect affordable development.

“I expect to see a haircut to affordable housing funding, but we need to hear that from the city and have some transparency of what that means from a dollar perspective,” she said. “The voters approved a massive increase in funding, and right now the city has indicated that they are no longer accepting applications for affordable housing projects, which really needs to be clarified in a time of more need and demand.”

Brooks, who served on Denver City Council from 2011 to 2019, expressed his disappointment with Council’s 7-6 vote in early June to reject Austin, Texas-based Cypress Real Estate Advisors’ rezoning request for a 650-unit apartment building, with 65 of the units restricted to households earning 80 percent or less of the area median income.

“It pissed me off, knowing that we are in this time where we need more housing and higher density,” Brooks said. “The developer went through the correct process and negotiated more affordable housing, and when they got to the finish line, council changed the goal post, which is illegal.”

Marshall, whose company is partnering with Shanahan Development on an income-restricted for-sale condo project along 6th Avenue in Lincoln Park, said that in the wake of the vote, the city needs to build more trust with developers in order to incentivize affordable projects.

“I’m in favor of seeing more affordability, but we need to make it a law if that’s going to be our standard,” Marshall said. “We weren’t keeping up with the pace before and it’s going to be hard to keep up with the pace of affordable housing we will need in the state going forward.”

He also added that communities of color will be the most affected by the financial consequences that follow a months-long stay-at-home order.

“The city needs to open up opportunities for black families to own homes,” Marshall said. “There’s a forecast that there could be up to a 45 percent increase in homeless families as a result of the pandemic, and a lot of those will be black and brown families. You cannot talk about affordable housing without talking about racial equity as well.”

Brothers Redevelopment, a Denver nonprofit focused on affordable, safe and accessible housing solutions for Colorado’s low-income, elderly and disabled residents, is one of two agencies providing short-term rental and mortgage assistance to households economically affected by COVID-19.

Martinez said the organization has seen an influx of applications and is focused on aiding communities that have been hit the hardest.

“There’s a lot of work being done to confront injustice and that includes housing,” Martinez said. “We need to be reaching out to the most vulnerable populations, like seniors, those with disabilities, low-income families and homeless individuals.”

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