Denver Election 2021: Voters asked to repeal city’s group living amendment

The group living amendment to the Denver zoning code was honed with input from thousands of Denver residents over years before it was adopted by the City Council in February, city leaders say.

Members of Safe and Sound Denver, a group that came together to oppose those changes, say the city didn’t do enough to educate residents about what the voluminous overhaul to city rules does. It’s not just about allowing more unrelated adults to live together.

With Referred Question 2F on the Nov. 2 ballot, they are asking voters to repeal the amendment.

“There are significant and weighty aspects to this group living amendment conversation that are being ignored and to me, that’s not due process. That’s not right,” 2F supporter and campaign volunteer Florence Sebern said.

The amendment makes several changes to the way Denver regulates group living within its borders.

  • It increases the number of unrelated adults who can share a home to five up from two. The previous cap was among the lowest in the country for big cities and was viewed as a barrier to people living in Denver where rents have skyrocketed over the last decade-plus.
  • It updated the definition of “residential care facilities” and consolidated a number of different uses under that definition, including shelters, assisted living and nursing homes, and community corrections facilities, sometimes known as halfway houses. It regulates the facilities by size, requiring community meetings around larger facilities.
  • It increased the areas where community corrections facilities can be established from just downtown and industrial zones to commercial corridors around the city.

A large coalition has formed to oppose 2F under the name Keep Denver Housed. Mayor Michael Hancock, 10 of the city’s 13 City Council members, affordable housing advocates and service providers are backing that group.

Hancock said 2F would be a step backward in the city’s efforts to increase housing density, something he heard was a priority from residents when the city was gathering input for its 2040 comprehensive plan.

“I think there is a lot of fear-mongering around this bill that is unfortunate and, quite frankly, detrimental to a city that is using equity as its north star,” Hancock said.

Sebern and other 2F supporters say repeal is necessary so the city can break down the changes into manageable parts that the average voter can understand and form an opinion around.

The amendment removed buffers between single-family neighborhoods and homeless shelters and community corrections facilities, they say.

“It challenges the safety of the community,” Paige Burkeholder, another Safe and Sound Denver volunteer, said.

The opponents’ section of the city’s voter guide points out the city’s zoning code already allows churches in residential neighborhoods to provide emergency shelter services. The group living ordinance expands public notice requirements around new residential care facilities and regulates how closely they can be grouped together to prevent clustering. Community corrections facilities governed by the ordinance will not house people coming out of prison.

City Councilwoman and 2F opponent Robin Kniech sees 2F supporters’ focus on community corrections and homeless shelters as “demonizing a group of people and trying to paint a whole campaign with it.”

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