Ink! Coffee CEO Keith Herbert deserves every bit of the public derision he is suffering for launching an ad campaign in the historic Five Points neighborhood celebrating the role in gentrification his business has played.
“Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014” was the ad campaign launched outside the coffee shop near 29th and Larimer streets. This wasn’t some nitwit with chalk throwing out a deep thought for the day but a contemplated ad campaign that appeared on an official ink! printed sandwich board sign.
Nationwide notoriety ensued — not the kind that lands you a rush of business, but the kind that drives protesters to shut down your store for the better part of a week.
Yes, Herbert deserves this media frenzy, although not the vandalism his business has suffered.
The more difficult question, however, is whether Mayor Michael Hancock, City Council Member Albus Brooks and other city of Denver officials deserve to be attacked for not adequately protecting residents in areas like Five Points from the pressures of development.
Politically motivated or not, it’s entirely appropriate to look to our elected officials for solutions to this seemingly impossible problem.
It doesn’t take long walking the streets of Curtis Park, Whittier, or River North to find someone who is angry about the luxury housing options that are spreading north of the adjacent downtown area pushing longtime residents out.
Gentrification, by definition, should be a good thing. If the socioeconomic status of a community increases, schools should improve, crime should go down and more public and private investment should follow.
But gentrification in Five Points has also come with the very unnecessary evil of involuntary displacement, when residents are forced to leave because rent gets too high or predatory home flippers convince them to sell or their house is taken as part of massive projects to expand Interstate 70 and the National Western Center.
There is little point to gentrification if lower-income households aren’t able to remain in the community and enjoy the benefits that come from more affluent neighbors. Unfortunately, for all the time the city has spent promoting urban infill development over the decades, the emphasis on promoting mixed-income communities simultaneously has lagged.
When the city re-did its large low-income housing units in Five Points, it was with an emphasis on mixed-income communities, bringing higher-income people into a lower-income area. But when the city gave millions of dollars in tax revenue to the developers of Lowry and Stapleton, it failed to put a similar emphasis on ensuring lower-income residents could live in the affluent area. The city plans to give millions away to developments at 8th and Colorado and at the old Gates Rubber factory, with paltry requirements for affordable housing.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that under Hancock and Brooks, the city has taken active steps to right that ship. The mayor easily exceeded his goal of creating or preserving 3,000 affordable units in five years, and that wasn’t even tapping into a new $150 million fund for affordable housing. In City Council District 9, Brooks’ district, there are 330 affordable rental units in the pipeline expected to open in 2017 or 2018. Plus there are another 44 units for sale.
It was Denver’s older housing stock that served as a natural source of affordable housing for low- to moderate-income residents — especially the historic homes on small lots in north Denver. As property values have skyrocketed in the city, those houses became worthless and the land beneath them an expensive and underutilized asset targeted by developers. Slowly what once was affordable housing is being razed, expanded or remodeled to target a higher-income demographic.
Hancock and Brooks cannot realistically be blamed for those market dynamics, but they are among a handful of people in a position to demand more affordable housing as the city gentrifies.