Sep 21, 2022 - News

Housing a key focus for Denver's COVID-19 relief spending

Illustration of person sitting beside a giant metal can with money in it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Denver is using millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to provide affordable housing and shelters in what amounts to one of the largest infusions of cash to address homelessness.

  • About $77 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars are allocated for housing stability and homelessness programs, officials said.
  • That's essentially half of the entire $154 million the city received this year.

State of play: The big spending on housing demonstrates the scope of the problem and underscores how the city views it as a public health issue. And it comes at a time when homelessness has increased in the city.

  • Some of the pressure to act is coming from the private sector. A variety of Denver businesses owners say homeless people lying and camping on the streets make customers feel unsafe and hurt downtown's recovery.
  • When the city surveyed more than 12,000 people about where to spend the federal dollars, housing was a top answer.

What they're saying: "One of the priorities we heard loud and clear from the public: housing and homelessness [is] really paramount in their eyes," federal grants manager for Denver Rory Regan told Axios Denver.

Details: Denver's spending ranged from $75,000 for a study looking at reusing office buildings as housing to $20 million to buy properties and convert them into housing, an exclusive Axios Denver analysis of ARPA spending in collaboration with the Marshall Project found.

Other spending included:

  • $23 million earmarked for purchasing and redeveloping two properties to create temporary housing sites for people living in encampment and for families, according to Denver's chief housing officer Britta Fisher.
  • $20 million to buy and redevelop two additional properties for more permanent housing
  • $10 million for down payment assistance and another $10 million for a homeownership development program
  • $7.8 million for sanctioned camping sites

The big picture: A handful of other Colorado cities and counties likewise used the one-time federal dollars to boost their homeless services, our analysis found.

  • Fort Collins put $1 million toward operations and renovations at homeless shelters. The county added much more to provide services.
  • In Pueblo, $800,000 went to purchase eight residential units to house homeless people with COVID-19 and provide rapid rehousing. The county also gave meals to people living on the streets and paid people without jobs to clean city properties at a rate of $50 a day.
  • Arapahoe used the money to hire a temporary homeless program administrator to coordinate all its ARPA-funded housing initiatives.

By the numbers: Overall, Denver received $308 million in ARPA money, paid out in two installments. The city collected the first half in July 2021; the second half was given to the city in July.

  • The city used the first round of funding to infuse its Affordable Housing Fund with $28 million, used $7.5 million to expand and improve a local shelter, and $3.9 million to build out its sanctioned campsites for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Regan said the federal money needs to be spent by 2026.

Related: The American Rescue Plan is rescuing police agencies in Colorado


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