Sep 26, 2023 - News

Denver's migrant and housing crises are colliding

Photo illustration of a collage of key shapes, a family of four holding hands and abstract textures.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios; Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

During his first months in office, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston has been navigating two housing crises at once: the city's growing number of unhoused people and thousands of newly arrived migrants.

Why it matters: The city simply doesn't have enough affordable homes, shelters or money to help everyone who needs it, straining scarce resources and leaving people out on the street.

The big picture: A surge in new migrants in cities like Denver is coinciding with an already troubling housing crisis and putting unprecedented strain on shelters, costing state and local governments millions of dollars and fueling political tension, Alayna reports with Axios' Caitlin Owens, Stef W. Kight and Monica Eng.

Driving the news: At a budget hearing last week, city leaders said they are hearing from migrant families who have either been evicted or are facing eviction for unpaid rent from the apartments they've been placed into.

  • At the same time, funds are drying up. Johnston told council members that if migrants continue arriving at this rate, the $20 million he allocated toward Denver's migrant response in 2024 will run out in the first four months.

Context: Migrant families have a 30-day limit in city-provided shelters, after which social workers can help them move into housing with one-time cash assistance.

  • But many are struggling to keep those homes without a steady income, because the federal government does not allow undocumented migrants to work.

What they're saying: "There is a real structural problem here that is different than any other challenges we face, which is: We have folks that arrive here, are desperate to work, want to get to work and cannot work," Johnston said.

By the numbers: As of Monday, Denver was grappling with more than 1,660 migrants in dedicated shelters.

  • On Sunday, 252 arrived, marking some of the highest daily numbers reported in weeks. Another 253 arrived Monday.
  • The city's migrant response has cost more than $26 million this year.

Of note: Some of the most recent arrivals aren't coming directly from the southern border, but rather from other cities where they can't find support, according to Mimi Scheuermann, acting director of the city's human services department.

  • Denver is also using funds to bus migrants elsewhere — including Chicago, where officials have expressed frustration over Denver organizations failing to coordinate with city leaders.

What to watch: The problem could get worse, as border cities prepare for a "third wave" of migrants.

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