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Denver housing initiative was supposed to help 400 families. So far it’s helping 3.

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post Downtown Denver seen from above in Sept. 2018.

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Nine months after Denver launched a housing program that drew national headlines for its innovative approach to helping lower-income families, it’s serving nowhere near the 400 families Mayor Michael Hancock envisioned.

So far, it’s more like three families.

Stateline, a publication of Pew Charitable Trusts, first reported the figure this week. Another four households have signed leases but haven’t yet moved into their units, and seven more are interested, said city housing staffer Laura Brudzynski.

“We really wanted to make sure that we were launching this program very intentionally and thoughtfully,” she said in an interview. “We are working to house folks as fast as we can, but also appropriately and with all of those details ironed out.”

The LIVE program is now expected to serve 125 households eventually.

It’s similar in concept to the federal Section 8 voucher program. But LIVE targets higher-income earners — those making 40 to 80 percent of area median income, which is up to about $72,000 for a family of four.

A St. Joseph’s receptionist in the program, for example, saw her rent for a one-bedroom near downtown subsidized, dropping her cost from $1,600 to $1,100, as Stateline reported. Participants can stay in the program for two years. They also receive financial counseling and, at the end of the program, they can get back a small portion of the rent they’ve paid and use it on housing or training.

The program really started running in January, when the first lease was signed. It’s principally funded by the city of Denver, which has dedicated about $180,000 for the program’s staffing over its five-year period, plus another $1 million to pay the rent subsidies.

So far, all of the participants are employees of St. Joseph’s Hospital, which has kicked in $100,000. That amount should support about 25 households, according to Brudzynski.

“We are finding in early phases the current market rents are still out of reach for some entry level employees. We expect the pilot will teach us much about the real challenges working families face in this housing market,” wrote DHA spokesperson Stella Madrid in an email.

The program also will be opened to the public — not just participating companies — sometime this summer, she said.

Originally, the idea was that the program would be largely supported by employers and philanthropies, according to Erik Soliván, Hancock’s former housing adviser. But now he believes the city and DHA will be stuck running it.

“It’s a program that’s never going to get on its feet,” said Soliván. “The goal of this was that we wanted to create a program that the city would participate in launching it, and then employers and foundations own it, and it operates on its own.”

Soliván quit the city last year and now is supporting Lisa Calderón in her campaign to unseat Hancock.

Brudzynski is optimstic that the program will grow, especially over the next year.

“We’re recognizing that this is a completely new approach. This is not something that we had a model to look to in other cities. We are creating something new and innovative in Denver,” she said.

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