HUD chief Ben Carson says Aurora affordable housing could be a model, but higher rents could be in the design, too

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AURORA | The affordable housing units for seniors at the Village at Westerly Creek are brand new and “actually pretty spacious.”

That’s what U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said as he toured the new units, days after suggesting that low-income Americans should pay more in rent.

Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman, who also attended the tour, said the region could use more units like the one’s at the old two-story walk-ups of Aurora’s Buckingham Gardens.

The new $51 million complex is a reality in part to tax incentives — which Carson said he supported. The project was financed with a combination of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and taxable and tax exempt debt, according to the Aurora Housing Authority.

Carson also touted the ability for the private and public sectors to team up to provide affordable housing.

“When you have private-public partnerships, that helps affordability, and it also helps with the long-term maintenance of the project,” Carson said to reporters following the tour. 

Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare attended the tour for the now mostly-complete Westerly Creek project, too. It’s supposed to be completely open by October.

They know, just as Carson explained, that affordable housing is an important topic, particularly for Aurora and the metro Denver region. 

“We have a renter’s crisis in Aurora, and I’m very concerned with the affordability relative to peoples’ income,” Coffman told the Sentinel following the tour.

It’s rare these days to tune into an Aurora City Council meeting and there isn’t an affordable housing measure, or something that turns into one, on the agenda. 

Coffman said the city is “most empowered to do something.” But there are some measures the state and Congress could take up, too. He noted construction defect reforms and legislation that would aim to help people save for a mortgage.

Carson’s tour came days after a report from the New York Times claiming HUD wants to raise rents on more than 700,000 of the nation’s poorest renters. 

When asked about that, Carson said people should take “a grain of salt with anything you read in the New York Times,” but admitted there is an early plan in the works to raise rents. 

“And we’ve also made sure in terms for any rental increases that we protect the elderly and disabled people,” Carson said, adding that the proposal is to help sustain HUD programs and really focused on work-abled people.

“Real compassion is not patting people on the head and saying, ‘there, there, you poor little thing.’ Real compassion is giving them an opportunity to realize the American dream.”

The tour included both senior and low-income family housing. The site was completely redeveloped into what will be around 200 units for seniors and low-income families.

In step with the tour, CD6 congressional candidate Jason Crow released his affordable housing plan. 

It includes expanding the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program —which Carson said he supports — limiting capital gain tax for housing projects and tax breaks for social impact funds. Crow’s plan also calls for legislation preventing discrimination against those who have served time in prison and legislation that requires banks to provide financing for all qualified borrowers.

“Tackling Colorado’s affordability crisis is the most important step we can take to keep our state a great place to live, work and play,” Crow said in a statement regarding his plan. “Restoring and expanding affordable housing stocks will keep our economy humming and safeguard our social fabric. When teachers, firefighters, and health care workers live in the communities they serve, we all win.”