Erik Soliván

Erik Soliván

Mayor at Denver

Location:
1331 S. Broadway, Denver, Colorado, United States
Company:
Denver
HQ Phone:
(303) 593-2931

General Information

Experience

MA0059 Executive Director  - Denver , CO

Education

law degree  - Rutgers University

Recent News  

Erik Soliván and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock talk affordable housing in Denver.
Erik Soliván and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock talk affordable housing in Denver. Aside from Hancock, the main players at a press briefing held at the mayor's office at Denver's City and County Building were Erik Soliván, executive director for the Office of Housing and Opportunities Everywhere, shorthanded as HOPE, and Kevin Marchman, who chairs the city's Housing Advisory Committee. Kevin Marchman, Erik Soliván and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at today's media briefing about Denver's new five-year housing plan. Kevin Marchman, Erik Soliván and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at today's media briefing about Denver's new five-year housing plan. At the briefing, Hancock, Soliván and Marchman didn't treat affordable housing and homelessness as separate issues. Soliván, for his part, focused on a overarching question: "How do we move Denver forward? Likewise, Soliván pointed out that there is already some funding available to assist financially challenged renters, including those who've been evicted, but the new plan would free up more - up to $1 million.

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Erik Soliván, director of the city's Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere program, says the HAC will continue to evolve.
"During this initial year, the Housing Advisory Committee continues to evolve and refine, under the ordinance, its role in providing advice and recommendations on policies and programs geared toward preserving and increasing affordable housing in Denver," Soliván wrote in an email.

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Erik Soliván, head of the Denver Office of HOPE.
Erik Soliván, head of the Denver Office of HOPE. booms Erik Soliván, who finally arrives just as the video is ending. Looking slightly flustered, he mutters something about a packed schedule that day. The director of the mayor's new Office of Housing and Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE), Soliván is the driving force behind Denver's five-year affordable-housing plan. Soliván and the Mayor's Office recognize that this city has an affordable-housing crisis. The five-year plan is their vision document to help over 30,000 households by 2023 and prevent Denver from becoming the next San Francisco or Brooklyn. Before outlining some of the plan's action steps, Soliván shares a PowerPoint presentation that highlights sobering facts about Denver's affordability crisis: Soliván proceeds to describe some of the funding mechanisms that the city will use to address homelessness and the rental market, but he knows his technical descriptions of things like impact fees and public-private partnerships go over many people's heads. So more than anything, the meeting has the feel of group therapy. "I know you're hurting," he says, multiple times. A lot is riding on Soliván. While he hates the label that many media outlets have given him - "housing czar" - that's exactly what he is. The city is pinning its hopes on Soliván knowing what to do with HOPE, from making zoning recommendations to using federal subsidies. Since he arrived in Denver in January, Soliván has taken a markedly different approach to homelessness and housing than the city used before; the five-year-housing plan is the culmination of his first nine months on the job. How it changes before it's finally approved - and whether the whole plan gets torpedoed by tax overhauls in Washington, D.C. - could affect the demographic and economic landscape of Denver for decades to come. Soliván realizes what's on the line. He knows all about the importance of housing from his own experience. Mayor Michael Hancock has worked closely with Erik Soliván. Mayor Michael Hancock has worked closely with Erik Soliván. Erik Soliván vividly remembers the day when he truly learned that there are two Americas. In 1993, Soliván - then a freshman in high school - was invited to visit the house of a wealthy student, Chas Peruto, whom he'd met at the private preparatory school where Soliván had a scholarship. In 1993, Soliván - then a freshman in high school - was invited to visit the house of a wealthy student, Chas Peruto, whom he'd met at the private preparatory school where Soliván had a scholarship. Many of his classmates didn't know that where Soliván lived in Hunting Park, an industrial area of north Philadelphia, his family regularly drew provisions from a food bank and sometimes had to sit by the stove in their house to keep warm during the winter because the radiator was broken. When Soliván arrived at Peruto's house, it seemed massive. As he passed through the doorway, he gazed up at the high, arched ceilings that formed the atrium. "Incredible," he remembers thinking. Still, Peruto's house was just a tease. After Soliván arrived, Peruto suggested that they'd have more fun visiting another classmate, Wendi Barish, at her home, a mansion that dwarfed Peruto's. "What do you mean, 'go-karts?'" Soliván replied. When they got to the back yard, Soliván's question was answered: The yard was so large that it included a full go-kart course that wound through the manicured landscaping. "It was amazing; it still sticks with me to this day," says Soliván. "To go to these homes and realize there were two Americas was a driving motivation once I got an opportunity to start this work, saying, 'How can we create more equity?'" The "other" America that Soliván knew was defined by struggle. The grandparents on both sides of his family were from Puerto Rico; after they'd settled in New York City, they'd lived in the same public-housing development. Soliván's parents met at church; they had a baby girl - Soliván's sister - when his mom was eighteen years old. Living in the projects was tough, crowded, stifling. In 1979, just a few years after the federal government began the Section 8 voucher program to provide subsidized housing, Soliván's parents had an opportunity to enter the program and get out of New York City. They accepted relocation to Hunting Park, a North Philly neighborhood characterized by racial segregation, blight, row homes, dilapidated houses and large factories. Soon after they moved, Erik was born. "It may have been tiny - just two bedrooms and a bathroom - but for them it was a crowning achievement," says Soliván. Having a stable living situation changed a lot for the family. Both parents were able to take one or two community-college classes per semester for years, so that six months after Soliván obtained his undergraduate degree from Haverford College in 2001, his mother received her graduate degree in education. His father earned his own a couple of years later. Now they both work as teachers. "Within a three-year span, we all got our degrees," says Soliván. "Their path and moving up the scale from public housing to entry-level home ownership, that's a path and opportunity that drives the work I do." It first drove him to help Democrat Ed Rendell's successful campaign to become governor of Pennsylvania in 2003. That led to a position as assistant to the state's deputy secretary for community affairs and development, where Soliván worked to find ways to use federal housing programs in formerly prosperous factory cities like Scranton, which were transitioning into blight as factories closed. Later he obtained a law degree from Rutgers University, then joined a private firm that helped distressed municipalities turn around their finances. From there, Soliván returned to government work, moving up to become senior vice president for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the fourth-largest housing authority in the United States. In that post, Soliván developed a theory: Housing issues, including homelessness and supportive housing, can't be viewed within their own bubbles. Rather, they are all interconnected, so a program that tackles one housing need affects other areas. "We have all these different offices, but what happens in government a lot is that they end up in silos, and we're not connecting the dots on this work," Soliván explains. Instead, he says, different services and departments need to work in concert to solve housing challenges. "I heard about the job here in Denver through LinkedIn," says Soliván. Despite his sometimes serious demeanor, Soliván has a few quirks, including a large collection of outrageously colorful socks that he likes to wear with his leather shoes. He also loves whiteboards. And anytime there's a whiteboard around, you can be sure that he's going to draw "the spectrum." The spectrum is at the center of the five-year-housing plan, and it's what drives Soliván's housing philosophy. Between the spectrum's two poles - homelessness and home ownership - is a continuum of housing stability: Starting from homelessness, the spectrum stretches through transitional-housing programs, supportive housing like Section 8, the low end of the rental market, high-end rentals and starter homes for first-time homebuyers, and then ends at market-rate housing stock. The operating principle is that everyone is trying to work their way toward more stability - which for many would conclude in home ownership. But there are stressors and obstacles all along the spectrum because of market demands, affordability issues and lack of government support. When Soliván was hired by Hancock, Denver had already made moves to address affordable housing. But Soliván has already shifted the city's focus by persuading the Hancock administration that merely using the fund to build affordable units is a wasteful use of money. Much of his argument comes down to math. At $250,000 per affordable unit, he points out, Denver won't be able to put much of a dent in the affordable-housing crisis during that ten-year period - especially not with 1,000 people continuing to move to the city each month. "You can't build your way out of this," Soliván says. And the challenges continue at the far end of the spectrum, where Soliván sees a combination of smaller initiatives and partnerships helping those who are trying to get out of the rental market and into ownership. Soliván thinks so, but not without the city tackling problems all along the housing spectrum, so that people can avoid "bottlenecks" as they work their way toward better housing. "The impact of the programs are limited, because if you think about the spectrum, if you can't move people up that continuum, you're just putting more people in a waiting space," says Soliván. Denver's Department of Human Services just hired a full-time underwriter to explore such opportunities, Soliván says.

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