By Eric Heinz
For the April 4 municipal election, The Denver North Star has interviewed the City Council candidates for District 1, and in the coming months we will publish their responses to questions regarding homelessness and housing, transportation issues, and a synopsis of themselves, in that order.
The order of candidates’ names appearing on the ballot will be announced Jan. 19 through a lottery drawing, according to the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Amanda P. Sandoval, Incumbent
Amanda P. Sandoval said she wants the city to better track what units are available that aren’t being used and could be converted into income-restricted housing, in addition to prioritizing the housing for people who have experienced displacement.
“One of the things I’ve learned while serving on Denver City Council is there wasn’t a mechanism to keep our affordable units within our portfolio in Denver, meaning we didn’t know some of the units we even had in Montbello … were actually deed-restricted,” she said.
Sandoval said using data collected from entities like the Denver Housing Authority and others is a way the city could be proactive in making sure people retain their housing.
“We need to be able to use that data to do intervention and diversion to those families,” Sandoval said. “That’s something that hasn’t been done before. We don’t go to these nonprofits and say, ‘Let me reach out to these families at Centennial. Let me reach out to these families at Edison,’ to make sure that we’re doing diversion first before they get to homelessness, and then we have to backtrack to get them back to the house.”
Sandoval also said the city needs to work closer with Denver Public Schools (DPS) in order to identify students whose parents have experienced displacement.
“I really believe there needs to be more of an education campaign,” she said. “And we need to continue to identify the causes of homelessness.”
She also said Denver should reintroduce a social impact bond like it did in 2016, where 280 units of supportive housing were built in Council District 2.
“I believe that we need to have a social impact bond initiative in every single council district. We can not just have one of them,” Sandoval said. “We have people who are experiencing homelessness everywhere, so let’s get more of those types of systems up and running really soon.”
Micaela Iron Shell-Dominguez
Micaela Iron Shell-Dominguez said she wants to see more programs that target the causes of homelessness as well as housing instability, saying, “You can’t talk about one without the other.”
“The decrease of affordability in the city with rising rent cost and cost of living is a huge part of what has created the homelessness crisis right now,” Iron-Shell Dominguez said. “As someone who has been unhoused, a single mom of two, I definitely understand there are a lot of factors that go into being unhoused.”
Iron Shell-Dominguez said she wants to see an increase in income-restricted housing, and she works with people who specialize in coming up with solutions for it during her normal job.
“If we can start to implement programs that focus on the root causes of homelessness, I think that will really help both the housing situation as well as homelessness,” she said.
Iron Shell-Dominguez said she wants to create more educational opportunities for first-time homebuyers and to cut the stereotype that people have to be rich to try to purchase their initial property.
“The way the city has grown, the way the Northside has grown, it definitely makes it anything but affordable,” she said. “If we can start implementing some programs that provide information on the whole process of homebuying, I think that will really help.”
Iron Shell-Dominguez said she would like to see underutilized buildings used to create more income-restricted housing.
“I don’t think that’s something that should even be questioned. I see these vacant and open buildings and definitely think that they could be a temporary place to keep our unhoused folks warm, give them a place to have a warm meal, a place to shower, a place to use the restroom,” she said.
Iron Shell-Dominguez also said she’d like to eliminate or reduce the requirements for people to put down first and last month’s rent deposits, which could make it easier for people to be approved for housing.
Ava Truckey said she would like to focus on getting people into housing as a way to first address homelessness.
“I think that it’s important to look at some more long-term issues by adapting more of a housing-first model, which would provide folks stabilization before hyper-fixating on things like substance use and recovery,” Truckey said. “I think that ensuring people have access to stability by knowing where they’re gonna rest their head at night and where they’re going to put their things, I think that that is something that we need to focus on primarily.”
In terms of cleaning up homeless encampments, Truckey said the city needs to ensure people have a place to go before disrupting where they’re trying to survive. “Specifically sweeps that are being done during extreme weather, we just saw that right with the last big storm, I think we need to address those as a whole,” she said. “Not only do they not have anywhere to go, at least they have somewhere to keep their belongings.”
Truckey said one of the most important things to her is keeping families in the homes that they have owned for generations and would move to put a system in place to ensure that happens. “A good place to start is making sure … folks that have been here for generations keep some generational wealth that they’re able to pass on to their own families,” she said.
Truckey also said properties that have been bought en masse by developers in certain communities has created this shortage of housing that is more affordable, and she would like to create something that would help people retain their properties.
“I think it would make more sense to keep more people in the community they are from and raise their families,” she said.