Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) celebrates the achievements of our partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities in metro Denver. ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight is awarded to partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents through our real estate investments and community assets.

Congratulations to our April 2019 Partner Spotlight of the Month: Colorado Center on Law and Policy!

In 2018, the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington prepared the “Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado.” The report calculates the necessary income required to meet basic needs dependent upon a family’s composition and place of residence in the State. The report is created every few years for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) in an effort to highlight the gap in stagnating wages and ever-increasing expenses. According to CCLP’s 2018 Self-Sufficiency Report, a household with one adult, one preschooler and one school-age child must earn $65,727 to meet basic needs.

CCLP logo

This number significantly improves upon the U.S. Federal Poverty guidelines, which are used to determine financial eligibility for various federal assistance programs. According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation’s website, the 2019 guidelines indicate that a three person household is considered beneath the poverty threshold if earning below $21,330. This is less than one-third the annual income indicated necessary by the Self-Sufficiency Standard which measures basic needs including (but not limited to) housing, childcare, food, healthcare and transportation.

Low wages coupled with the rising costs of living create unsustainable situations for many Coloradans. According to the Self-Sufficiency Standard, nearly 30 percent of Denver County households do not earn the annual income necessary to meet basic needs. As we work to find innovative solutions to the affordability crisis, we cannot overlook the impact of lagging wages.

“I think that what is driving the affordability crisis is the whole issue that wages are not growing,” said Claire Levy, CCLP’s Executive Director. “The fact that although low wage jobs are increasing but middle wage are not really supporting a middle-income lifestyle; I think that’s really a huge problem. We wouldn’t have so many people who couldn’t afford their rent if they could actually make a decent living.”

Before accepting her current role with CCLP, Levy was a state legislator for House District 13, representing Clear Creek, Gilpin and Western Boulder Counties. During her time as an elected official Levy saw the social impact of economic policy that favors growth for the top 20%. In 2013 she left the legislature to work at CCLP.

Photo Courtesy: CCLP
Photo Courtesy: CCLP

Founded in 1998 by Colorado’s legal aid community, CCLP was created so individuals would continue to have access to legal services following a decision made by Congress to restrict advocacy funded by federal dollars. Since their inception in the late 1990s, CCLP has quickly become a lead advocate in the realm of increasing access to healthcare, job training, family economic security and many additional critical services.

CCLP takes a holistic view of breaking down barriers to economic advancement. The organization’s big picture mentality is easily identified by their Family Economic Security Program. The program takes aim at virtually every challenge facing low-income Coloradans: income, health care, child care, renter’s rights and access to job training among other issues. The program itself is broken into four focus areas – protecting workers and consumers, meeting basic needs, securing affordable housing and expanding economic opportunity.

CCLP’s progress towards these focus areas has been tremendous. In an effort to protect Colorado residents from entrapment in high-cost debt, CCLP helped defeat a series of bills supported by OneMain, Colorado’s largest subprime lender. The legislation would have raised interest rates significantly and severely impacted subprime credit borrowers.

Housing security is a pressing issue facing many of Colorado’s low-income residents, and is a key focus of CCLP’s policy efforts. Prior to 2017, landlords were allowed to give just seven days’ notice when raising rents and/or evicting tenants. After learning that an elderly resident living on a fixed-income received notice of a rent increase that she could no longer afford, CCLP committed to taking the issue of unfair termination of a tenancy seriously.

With Colorado among only three states in the entire nation with such a short notice period of rent increase or termination of tenancy, CCLP became the driving force behind Senate Bill 245, which required landlords to provide a minimum 21 days’ notice before raising rents or evicting tenants. The proposed legislation aimed to protect potentially vulnerable residents, allowing them additional time to search for housing or find assistance.

Senate Bill 245 was passed in 2017 with broad bipartisan support and signed into law that year by Governor John Hickenlooper. This effort in particular demonstrates CCLP’s dedication and success in bettering the lives of Coloradans. Their thorough and proven process of evaluating a systematic injustice, researching and identifying solutions and subsequently advocating for policy change has been extremely successful to date.

Research is also an integral part of CCLP’s policy advocacy work. The advocacy organization has released several informative reports including Facing Eviction Alone, the Human Services Gap Map and the State of Working Colorado. The State of Working Colorado is an annual report that seeks to answer one overarching question: how are people who work in Colorado doing within the confines of the current economy?

On paper, Colorado’s economy is doing quite well. Colorado is in the top 10 states for job growth as of late 2018. Rural towns, despite experiencing slower job recovery from the Great Recession than other parts of the State, have experienced steady employment increases each year. Colorado also has a very low unemployment rate, about 2.2 percent statewide compared to the national unemployment rate of roughly four percent. Household incomes are also rising, up three percent from 2017.

CCLP's Executive Director Claire Levy testifying in support of House Bill 1322. Photo Courtesy: CCLP.
CCLP's Executive Director Claire Levy testifying in support of House Bill 1322. Photo Courtesy: CCLP.

This seemingly positive data can prove misleading for the real economic security of many Coloradans. The aforementioned report above stated that the rise in household income is not attributed to a rise in personal income, but an increase in hours worked. When the cost of living rises and incomes stagnate, families have no choice but to shoulder the economic burden by increasing their workloads.

“The rules of our economy broke a long time ago,” Levy explained. “For years, wages mirrored growth and productivity. Then around the late 1970’s, productivity kept going up and wages fell flat, and all that increase in value to the private sector was not going to workers but was going in the form of capital or stock increases in the investment value of the corporation.”

Earlier this month, CCLP introduced a bill to increase funding for affordable housing at the statewide level. As proposed, House Bill 19-1322 would draw from Colorado’s unclaimed property funds, and could generate upwards of $40 million per year earmarked for affordable housing across the State. ULC strongly supports this bill, and is very thankful to CCLP for bringing forward this critically important legislature. As it stands today, Colorado is one of the last remaining states without a dedicated source of revenue for affordable housing at the statewide level, a statistic that desperately needs to change.

ULC is both motivated and inspired by CCLP’s expertise and unique ability to identify issues facing working class Coloradans and address these issues head on to stimulate policy change. We are especially grateful for their continued publication of the Self-Sufficiency Standard, as we believe this report truly takes into account the cost of living in Colorado, and must be used with addressing inequalities across the State. We look forward to CCLP’s success advocating on behalf of Colorado’s population, and value their continued partnership!

Next month, Claire Levy will be stepping down from her role as the Executive Director of CCLP. Below is a message from Claire regarding her departure:

To the CCLP Community:

It is with enormous gratitude and appreciation for you and for our work together, that I am sharing my decision to step down as Executive Director of Colorado Center on Law and Policy.  I have asked CCLP’s Board of Directors to have a successor in place by June 1, 2019.

After five years of leading CCLP, it is a good time for new leadership. I’m proud to say that the organization is strong, CCLP staff is respected as agents of change locally, statewide and nationally, and we have accomplished so much in partnership with you, our community of supporters. 

During the past five years, CCLP has grown and taken on new issues. We are working on housing – both affordability and security, the challenges of becoming economically secure with a criminal record, mental health parity, immigrant access to health and many other challenges people face in an economy that does not always pay a fair wage for hard work. CCLP is poised to expand its advocacy on food security and consumer protections. We are doing in-depth research using sophisticated data analysis. We have been working together to understand the challenges of implicit bias and systemic racism, and to incorporate what we are learning into every aspect of our work and the organization. We are about to release new editions of three comprehensive reports that explain why so many Coloradans struggle to meet their basic needs even as unemployment falls to an all-time low. Basically, things are humming along and we are truly making a difference.

I know that as I pass the baton to a new leader, CCLP will continue to grow, evolve and serve communities in need. We are fortunate to have some of the most passionate, creative and energetic people I have ever had the privilege to work with. That won’t change after I bid farewell.

CCLP’s Board of Directors will soon begin searching for a new Executive Director. As CCLP has placed racial equity at the forefront of our work, I know the Board is committed to recruiting candidates with diverse experiences from diverse backgrounds. I will work to ensure that the transition smooth and successful.  

In the meantime, we are all working hard! We will advance a challenging agenda during the next legislative session and continue our robust advocacy with state administrative agencies.  We will work with the in-coming gubernatorial administration to see that economic and social justice is imbedded in all state services. As the 2019 legislative session draws to a close next May, I am confident that you will be as impressed as ever in what this small organization has accomplished.

To be absolutely clear, I am not retiring and I hope to continue advocating for the issues I am passionate about for many years to come. 

The opportunity to lead this organization has offered me challenges and growth. I will always to grateful to the Board of Directors for entrusting me with the future of CCLP and to you, our friends and supporters, for aiding in my success.

With gratitude,