As the future of an age-restricted affordable housing complex in downtown Littleton continues to face uncertainty, city officials are saying it’s business as usual, for now.
During an April 26 meeting, city council members and staff discussed long-term options for Geneva Village, home to 20 low-income seniors, in what staff said would likely be part of a multi-year conversation.
The aging city-owned complex, which city officials say is badly in need of renovation, has sparked a longtime discussion between council and city staff about what to do with the property: Sell it? Renovate it? Something else?
Almost all the options explored so far also raise the question of where Geneva Village’s current residents will go, whether it be temporarily or permanently. City Manager Mark Relph, speaking with Colorado Community Media a day after the meeting, said the situation is no fault of Geneva Village’s tenants.
“This is the city’s fault. We haven’t managed it properly,” Relph said.
Residents had raised concerns about their future after notes began appearing on their doors in the fall of 2019 notifying them that the city would stop filling vacancies “pending further decisions.” According to city officials, the complex currently has eight vacancies, and, per council members’ direction, there are no immediate plans to fill those.
The vacancies, coupled with rents that have not been raised in more than 40 years, have created a dire financial reality for the complex, which city officials said is riddled with outdated electrical infrastructure, lead paint and asbestos.
Some residents had previously told Colorado Community Media that they had stopped making maintenance requests for fear of giving reasons that could lead them to have to leave their homes.
But while there are no immediate plans to overhaul the property, city council members and staff have signaled that it can’t stay in its current state forever. And it could start with relinquishing city ownership.
“The city is not a property management company,” said Keith Reester, Littleton’s public works director, during the April 26 meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Gretchen Rydin voiced unease with the city continuing to own and manage the property and called it a “dual relationship” that presents ethical concerns.
“On the one hand as a city we’re supposed to protect our citizens,” she said. “And a landlord, traditionally, is for profit and is there to make money.”
One option that was presented to council is to sell the property to a private developer. Bruce O’Donnell, president of Starboard Realty Group, told council members the site could be ideal for a three-story affordable complex with possibly triple the units, which he estimated could cost between $24 million and $30 million.
But Council Member At-Large Pam Grove pushed back on that proposal and said she’d like to preserve Geneva Village as it is, with possible renovations.
“Why does everyone have to live in a high-rise?” she said, adding she would like other options to be explored outside of redevelopment.
The cost of renovating the complex, should the city maintain ownership, was estimated to be $2.8 million, according to city staff, though that could rise to more than $3 million with inflation.
Where that money would come from is also an unknown. City officials estimate that Geneva Village’s 20 residents pay an average monthly rent of $375, far below the average rental rates of other affordable housing units offered through the city’s housing authority, which range from just under $1,000 to over $3,000. Because of this, the city has been heavily subsidizing the complex with money from its general fund.
City staff said the growing vacancies, low rents and need for expensive maintenance have led to annual costs of more than $123,000 for the complex, with over $34,000 in losses.
Geneva Village also has its own fund account, which at the beginning of 2009 was at more than $630,000. But between 2009 and 2013, during the economic turmoil of the Great Recession, the city drained that account.
The city has since worked to replenish the fund account in recent years, adding nearly $300,000 back as of 2022, according to city Finance Director Tiffany Hooten.
But some community members have said the city is in a good financial situation to invest in the complex.
“I feel that Geneva Village should be taken off the table as saleable,” said Joseph Trujillo, who spoke during a previous council meeting on April 19. “You’re basically just putting all of those people out on the street.”
Community member Lynn Christensen said the city could use some of its $12 million in federal pandemic aid to go toward Geneva Village, which she called a “stable home to a group of seniors who will have a very hard time if they have to relocate.”
Geneva Village resident Robyn Bernstein said the city could raise residents’ rents incrementally over the next several years to help pay for maintenance. But she also accused city staff, in particular Relph, the city manager, for failing to properly run the complex.
“With all the money you all have, you’d think there would not be the mismanagement that our manager has done,” she said.
Ultimately, council members voiced that they needed more time, and more options, before making a decision about the property’s future. For Councilmember Steve Barr, that starts with “better understanding of the needs of the residents.”
“Until we know what the capacity of the residents are, we can’t really create a pathway to doing anything with that property,” he said.
Councilmember Jerry Valdes, who had previously said current Geneva Village residents should consider getting on a waiting list for housing vouchers should they have to relocate, doubled down on his statement.
“I’d recommended the folks that live over there that they should apply for Section 8 vouchers or site-based vouchers,” he said. “And hopefully they did, because that’s where ultimately I’m thinking this is going to go, is that these folks are going to need some assistance somehow.”