by Julie Hayden
It’s a peaceful neighborhood tucked just around the corner from Exposition and Quebec. The yards are carefully tended; flowers bloom and shady trees line the street in front of beautifully maintained homes.
But one house in this quiet neighborhood stands out like a sore thumb. “It’s an eyesore,” complains neighbor Deborah Costin. “The place is a mess. The grass is dead and full of weeds. A tree in the front yard is dead. The exterior paint is peeling and there is trash.”
Normally neighbors would take their complaints to Denver City inspectors. But that doesn’t do any good in this case because the rundown property at 716 South Poplar in Denver, is owned by the City and County of Denver.
Public property records show the three bedroom, two and half bath home with 2,268 square feet was built in 1964. In August 1998, the owners sold it to the City and County of Denver for $209,900. According to public records, a few months later, in October 1998 the City gave it to the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, the property was rezoned and a year later DURA turned it over to Redi Corporation, which contracted with Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD) to operate it as a group home for mentally ill residents.
According to news reports and official City documents, the home was one of several Denver “scurried” to purchase to comply with a court order following a settlement in a lawsuit filed regarding mental health housing.
The City of Denver hurriedly rezoned the residential property to allow a group home, over the strenuous objections from the neighborhood association and individual neighbors.
But in spite of the frequent paramedic, fire and police sirens responding to 9-1-1 calls from the address the neighbors say they came to accept the group home in their midst and the property was kept in good condition.
That all changed when MHCD closed the group home and on March 25, 2016, the property was turned back over to the care and ownership of the City and County of Denver.
Costin says, “It’s been a year and a half of the house sitting there empty and steadily deteriorating. “She has pictures showing the yard sprouting only weeds with the grass long since dead. Other pictures show aging paperwork stuck in the door from the State of Colorado demanding information about a required inspection. There appears to be a hole in the eaves under the roof, the paint is peeling, roofing materials left as trash sit alongside the house.
“Who knows what is going on in the back as part of the fence fell down,” Costin adds.
The neighbors also have concerns about the inside of the house. They say last winter two neighbors walking their dogs noticed water pouring out the front door, down the sidewalk and into the street. They called 9-1-1 and the fire department responded and shut off the water. But nothing else was done for weeks and neighbors speculate there could be a serious mold problem.
Costin also questions whether the City of Denver is being a good steward of taxpayers’ dollars when it comes to this property. Sold in 1998 for the $209,900, Zillow and other real estate sites estimate the home is worth more than double that today, putting it around $560,000. And while public tax assessment records show neighboring families are paying thousands of dollars in property taxes the City and County of Denver pays absolutely no taxes on 716 S. Poplar.
Costin says, “Whatever upkeep is being done, utilities or insurance that are being paid is at taxpayer expense and the property value is rapidly plummeting given the deterioration of the house and yard.”
Costin and other neighbors ask, why doesn’t the City of Denver simply sell the property and let a new homeowner who will actually take care of the home enjoy it. “Why not put the property on the market so it could return to being a single-family residence in keeping with the neighborhood?”
Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann, whose District Six includes the South Poplar street neighborhood, says the City of Denver has no plans to sell the property. He explains Denver is in negotiations with a non-profit service provider to turn the house into a group home for homeless women to help them get back on their feet. He says the organization is in the process of applying for grants to fund the program and take over the property.
Kashmann says he understands the neighbors’ frustration with the deteriorating condition of the property, “Without question if I were a neighbor I would not be pleased,” Kashmann says. He adds he will see what he can do to push the City to take better care of the property in the meantime.
Denver City spokeswoman Courtney Law says the City has programs to provide regular maintenance of properties it owns and after being contacted by the Chronicle she passed neighborhood concerns to the maintenance people and says they will respond.
Neighbors remain skeptical and are not happy about the prospect of another group home at the property. Costin says, “Is that the best use for that house? No. It was a bad idea in 1998 and it’s a bad idea now.”