Controversial affordable housing bill narrowly passes Denver City Council

Anthony Cotton -- The Denver Post 

This is a photo of an affordable housing development in Seattle, Washington. Photo by MJBeal. 

This is a photo of an affordable housing development in Seattle, Washington. Photo by MJBeal. 

After more than three hours of debate, with almost two dozen speakers testifying, along with members publicly weighing the pros and cons, the Denver City Council voted 7-6 Monday night to advance a bill regarding potential changes to the city's affordable-housing laws.

The vote was a victory for the bill's sponsor, Councilwoman Robin Kniech. Initially rejected in committee on a 4-3 vote on Aug. 5, Kniech filed it with the full council in the hopes that forcing a full vote would allow her to pick up enough support to keep it alive.

The measure is an extension of a controversial bill initially passed in 2002, that, among other things, requires developers of condo projects to provide some affordable, for-sale units.

One of sponsors of that original bill, former Councilwoman Susan Barnes Gelt, testified it was "a mistake." When it became clear on Monday that Kniech had enough support to move on, Councilman Charlie Brown called upon Mayor Michael Hancock to veto the bill.

Prior to Monday's debate, Kniech said there would be a great deal of compromise involved; indeed, when she introduced it, Kniech pointed out a number of changes designed to reflect flexibility, including providing developers with more options to create units on-site or off-site that would better fit their business models.

Most of the speakers who were supportive of the bill expressed the idea that it gave them the opportunity to participate in the "American dream" of home ownership.

"Those chances are few and far between for some of us," said a student at the University of Colorado Denver. "For better or worse, home ownership is a sign of being part of the middle class in America. This will help correct vagaries in the marketplace that are preventing that."

Those speaking out against Kniech's proposal said they were appreciative of the hard work she put in, as well as her attempts at finding a compromise. However, they continued, the plan wouldn't work as intended.

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