HOST 5 Year Housing Plan is to Continue Mass Homelessness and Housing Insecurity

The Department of Housing and Stability (HOST) has released their draft five year housing plan (2022-2026). The plan would be aptly renamed as ‘a plan to continue mass homelessness and keep people struggling to pay their rent.’ We want to share why we oppose this plan and what the plan should be instead. And we want to ask you to speak up to demand our City make a plan to actually ensure the people of Denver are ‘healthy, housed, and connected.’

How much is the need?

The report shares some important data on the scale of the housing need in Denver. According to the report:

‘Denver has a shortage of nearly 19,000 rental units at or below 30% AMI, a shortage of 20,000 rental units at or below 50% AMI, and a shortage of more than 11,000 rental units at or below 60% AMI’ (page 13).

‘And while the last complete count showed more than 4,100 persons experiencing homelessness prior to the pandemic, the number of people in shelters increased 60% during the year after the pandemic’ (page 1) and it is obvious there has been an increase in homeless people living outdoors too. A best estimate for the number of people homeless in Denver now should be at the very least 7,000 (to be very conservative and not to include people who are couch surfing or doubled up in housing. It should also be noted that The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) put the number of unique individuals that touched the homeless service providers of Denver Metro (7 counties) at 31,207 (State of Homelessness page 14).

Using HOSTs own numbers, all this need added together we are looking at a need of roughly 57,000 more housing options under 60%AMI.

How much of the need would their plan meet?

The HOST plan is largely silent on goals for numbers of housing units created or number of people housed. Instead the plan refers mostly to the % of people served. Only one number of housing units is named as a goal – 7,000 units created OR preserved over the next 5 years. The plan does not break down these 7,000 units into AMI levels. This extremely vague housing goal makes it impossible to see any concrete number of new housing units for any AMI level. All we can do is use our educated guess to estimate how many units of 0-30% AMI housing are planned to be created in the next 5 years. To give the benefit of the doubt let’s say 5,000 of these units are newly created (not preserved), and one quarter of those are built for 0-30% AMI, that would be 1,250 over the next 5 years, or 250 housing units a year. That is 3.5% of the need.

How much would it cost to meet the need?

The HOST report lists their own approximate costs for housing. The average funding HOST provides per unit of affordable housing is $20,000 (page 53). The average annual cost for rent and supportive services in supportive housing is $25,000 (page 53). If we were to house at least the 7,000 people we know are homeless right now, and if we were to assume one quarter of these people need ‘supportive housing,’ it would cost $148,750,000. In order to provide the average of $20,000 per affordable housing unit for the full 57,000 it would cost just over $1billion.

For context, the total Denver 2021 operating budget is 2.1billion.

Why is this plan not being real about the cost of the need ?

These are big numbers. At least for a city perspective. Yet from a federal perspective they are small. The federal budget for one attack submarine is 3 billion – twice the amount of all federal homeless assistance grants (Without Housing page 38). The federal government has, in fact, in the past funded public low income housing at these levels. But since the early 1980’s that funding has been slashed to nothing (Without Housing page 30). In 2019 there was a bill in congress called the Homes for All Act which would bring back federal funding for public housing at the scale of the need. This bill would create 12 million new public low income housing units along with other investments to preserve attainable housing. This bill was killed in 2019 but may be back this year.

While these are big numbers for the city, they are not as big when you compare them to current city spending on police and jails. The 2021 Denver budget for police and jails was $588,354,653 (Denver Budget page 569) – enough to house over half of the 57,000 people cost burden below 50% AMI plus the whole unhoused population. If we were to just cut the police and jail budget by one quarter that funding would be $147,088,663 – enough to house at least 7,000 people who are homeless in Denver right now.

These numbers also do not appear as undoable when you compare them to current spending on shelters. HOST themselves state that it costs $25,000 for the average annual cost per bed of a 24/7 shelter. The same as the average annual cost for rent and supportive services in supportive housing (53). If we are currently spending this much to keep people in mass congregate shelters, why do we not use that money to house these folks!? There are currently 2,100 shelter beds – everyone of the people staying in these beds could be living in houses for the same amount it cost to run the shelter system.

So why does HOST’s 5 year plan not name these real costs of housing our people? Probably because they don’t want to admit how short of meeting the need their plan is, and because they don’t want to reallocate funds from places like police or shelters in order to build housing.

If the city refuses to take the steps necessary to move money from harmful places into housing in order to house the people of Denver, what should be done with the small amount of funding that is allocated for housing and homelessness?

The 5 year plan states a goal of reducing unsheltered homelessness by 50%. Yet the means it names to reduce unsheltered homelessness are improving the shelter system, more SOS sites, and more outreach – not more housing. Their version of reducing unsheltered homelessness is to push unsheltered homeless folks into shelters, not to open up housing. If they are not going to provide housing for these folks, funding should be used to provide sanitation resources where people are living outside. Human beings cannot be forced into shelters that do not work for them. Furthermore, providing basic sanitation needs at encampments would be a fraction of the cost of shelters. 

As noted earlier, it cost $25,000 to shelter someone and $25,000 to provide supportive housing. Money that is being dedicated to the shelter system should be used to move the 2,100 people staying in shelters into housing. Some emergency shelters should be kept available, but by housing the 2,000 plus people currently living in shelters, resources can be opened up to serve people who have emergency shelter needs (the way shelters were originally supposed to be), not to treat shelters like housing where people live for years.

If the city is only allocating this small budget for housing, a large % should be allocated for 30% and below (at least 40% of units created), as well as a large % for 50% AMI (at least 40% of units created). The data shows that is where the need is so that is where we should be putting our funds. The plan should clearly state and commit to these AMI breakdowns for the 7,000 units they create.

It is possible for our country to make housing a human right, attainable for all. It is time that both cities and the federal government quit pointing the finger at each other and start stepping up to do their part. It is time that Denver admit it is possible in their housing plan and do their part to move funding from harmful places (like police, jails, shelters, and bloated administrations) into housing. It is time we pass bills in congress like the Homes for All Act. It is time we quit making housing a commodity for profit and start making housing a part of our human infrastructure!

Read the Full HOST Five Year Housing Plan

Housekeys Action Network Denver