Academics and Research

Land Use Institute continues conversation on affordable housing

When Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted a Feb. 6 summit on the University of Denver campus to discuss affordable housing in Denver, he was joining a campus conversation that has been ongoing since 1991.

“Our population is growing throughout the region,” Hancock said in his opening remarks at the summit. “Home prices and rents continue to soar, and inventories need boosting all across our communities. I was just in Aspen last weekend and had the chance to meet with some of their government officials — they shared with me that Aspen has a population of 6,000 people but a budget of $100 million. … Most of that budget goes to support affordable housing, because most people who work in Aspen can’t afford to live in Aspen. And we are fast approaching that same scenario here in [Denver].”

It’s a problem that has been discussed for nearly 25 years at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute (RMLUI), an annual conference at DU’s Sturm College of Law. The two-day event gathers academics, lawyers, planners, activists, real estate professionals and others to explore issues of economic growth, housing and sustainability in the region. This year’s conference, scheduled for March 12–13, is themed around “Building Fair and Resilient Communities” and investigates how communities deal with issues of gentrification, climate change, the changing economy and demographic shifts while better addressing issues of social and environmental justice.

“At the time [the conference started], there was a fair amount of contentious and unproductive conversation about sprawl in the West,” says Susan Daggett, executive director of the RMLUI. “The original idea was to put together this interdisciplinary gathering of leaders in the field who could try to create a more productive conversation. Not about whether to grow or not to grow, or how to stop growth, but rather to talk about how to grow, because there was a general recognition that [Denver was] going to grow. The conversation was about how we grow in a way that feels right for the Rocky Mountain West and that protects our natural resources and the things that make this place special.”

Among the speakers at this year’s conference are Don Elliott, director of national consulting firm Clarion Associates, whose areas of focus include zoning, development regulations and international urban development; and Diane Barret, chief projects officer for the city of Denver. The conference also features breakout sessions on light rail, inclusionary housing ordinances, transit-oriented development, walkability and other vital issues around sprawl and affordable housing.

“The way we think about it here at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute is not just, ‘How do you build more housing that’s affordable?’” Daggett says. “It’s, ‘How do you connect those places more effectively with transportation options, whether it’s trails or bikes or public transportation of some kind?’ How do you make life in the Denver metro region more affordable in general?”

For more information on the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute, visit the event’s webpage.

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