Affordable housing has been an issue of abiding interest in Stapleton as rental and affordable for-sale units have lagged behind the goals established in the development agreement with Denver in 2001.
The city’s development agreement states that Forest City “will develop or cause to be developed” such housing “at a pace reasonably consistent with the pace of development of market rate housing at Stapleton.” The agreement also assumes that a “public subsidy” will be required to implement affordable housing here. The agreement does not identify what entity is ultimately responsible for finding funds to build affordable units.
The city’s ability to enforce the affordable housing portion of the development agreement appears to be limited to the ability of the Stapleton Development Corporation to delay or stop land sales of the former Stapleton Airport site to Forest City. SDC has chosen not to exercise that power. Meanwhile, federal funding available for affordable housing has been decreasing over the years.
These factors have led to a current situation where affordable for-sale is half of the stated goal of 10% of all homes. Through the first quarter, rental units are currently less than 19% of all units—as compared to the Stapleton Development Plan’s statement that 33% of all units would be rental. Forest City asserts that 33% was only a projection and, in any case, the eventual mix of rental vs. for sale is a function of the market. But with a requirement that 20% of all rental be affordable, CAB believes the affordable rental goal is meaningless without a firm commitment to 33% rental as stated in the development plan. CAB has been critical of Forest City for a perceived over-emphasis on single family detached housing particularly given the Denver area’s strong rental market the past several years.
How would this proposal affect development of affordable housing in Stapleton?
In response to a question from the Front Porch, staff from Denver’s Office of Economic Development told the audience at a recent public meeting the ordinance would not apply to places such as Stapleton where a pre-existing agreement addressing affordable housing is in place with developers. However, without a draft ordinance to review, important details are unknown, for example: Could the city impose the 0.5 property tax mill levy while exempting the impact fee? Could the linkage fee be imposed only on commercial projects but not residential projects? Would Stapleton properties be billed the .5 mill tax levy if the tax funds weren’t used in Stapleton because it has a pre-existing affordable housing agreement that overrides the new proposal? Would the city be willing to spend fund revenues in Stapleton despite exempting Forest City from the new program?
On July 21, Forest City spokesperson Tom Gleason told the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) that his company will continue to monitor the proposal but pointed to a clause in the 2001 Stapleton Development Agreement that states the “Affordable Housing Plan shall be deemed to be in lieu of any City regulatory requirements for affordable housing that the City may adopt subsequent to the Effective Date.”
CAB expressed a desire to weigh in on the proposal but noted the City Council may take action on an ordinance before the next CAB meeting in August. City Council Member Chris Herndon told CAB he doesn’t understand the “urgency” driving the council schedule on this item: “Several layers of the housing onion have not been fully vetted.” He said he would push to delay the August council action.
CAB also reiterated its interest in seeing from Forest City a “master plan map” that illustrates the location and amount of land set aside for affordable housing in Stapleton in enough detail to be assured that, at build-out, the community will in fact have enough land to meet the affordable housing goals. Parcels of interest include the 33 acres of vacant land located immediately south of the Central Park station, a site zoned for mixed use and high density. CAB chair David Netz said this map is especially important given the pace of development in Stapleton and the likelihood that build-out will reach 14,000 dwelling units, up from the original projection of 12,000 residences.
Front Porch observations:
Last fall, the SDC stated it would adopt an action plan early in 2016 to ensure that Stapleton’s affordable housing goals would be met. We have yet to see any such plan.
Now, the city’s proposed permanent housing fund raises a new set of questions. While it has been stated that the fund will not impact Forest City’s development agreement, this doesn’t answer questions of the development fee and property tax applicability within Stapleton (see above). If such revenue is collected within Stapleton, it is reasonable to expect that some portion of those revenues could be expended for affordable housing projects in Stapleton. Would this constitute the “public subsidy” contemplated in the Stapleton Development Agreement? If so, what effect would this have on the subsidies that Forest City states it has been making to Stapleton affordable housing projects? If Forest City felt less need to provide those subsidies, adoption of this permanent housing fund might result in no net improvement in financial support for affordable housing projects in Stapleton.
This is why the Stapleton CAB has requested of Forest City an accounting of the subsidies it says it has been contributing to affordable housing. Forest City has so far declined to provide this information with spokesman Tom Gleason saying, “We don’t want to do it. Each individual project requires a certain amount of support and that is between us and the developer.” CAB says it needs this information to assess whether the city’s proposed permanent fund will have any net benefit for affordable housing in Stapleton.