Megan Yonke Assumes Role of Senior Policy Advisor for Housing with Governor Jared Polis’s Administration

Megan Yonke Assumes Role of Senior Policy Advisor for Housing with Governor Jared Polis’s Administration

January 31, 2024

Megan Yonke, alumna and lecturer of CU Denver’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program, has emerged as a pivotal figure in the realm of affordable housing in her role as the Housing Development Officer for the City and County of Denver. Drawing on her expertise and passion for creating sustainable communities, Yonke recently assumed the crucial role of Senior Policy Advisor for Housing in Governor Jared Polis’s administration. In this capacity, she is poised to bring her wealth of knowledge to the forefront, shaping policies that address housing challenges and foster inclusive housing developments.

From International Relations and Economics to Department of Defense Consulting to Urban Planning

Yonke’s extensive background in policy and urban planning started during the pursuit for her undergraduate degree in international relations and economics at Michigan State University. After earning her degree, she spent time working in supply chain management in the private sector for IBM and consulting with the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington D.C. She later took a position with GeoEye-1, a remote, global sensing company that was eventually acquired by DigitalGlobe. The acquisition moved Yonke and her family to Colorado, the state she lovingly calls home.

Not long after her move across the country, Yonke began to consider revisiting her undergraduate degree studies and reevaluating her career trajectory.

“I wanted to get back into the public policy realm,” said Yonke. “I really love how cities are oriented, and I wanted to learn about this nexus of community—community benefit of equity and real estate.”

In 2017, Yonke completed her Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at CU Denver and spent the next year working for local nonprofits Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) and Radian. In 2018, Yonke once again made a major career change and began working as a Housing Development Officer for the City and County of Denver. 

The Expansion of Affordable Housing Options in Denver

“My first work out of graduate school was working in community-oriented commercial real estate for a while,” said Yonke. “That involved childcare, access to health care, and access to healthy food spaces for nonprofits and minority- and women-owned small businesses. So, the commercial side of the picture. What I was finding was that displacement was putting a strain on whether those things were needed. Also, real estate development was making it more expensive to develop in cases where there wasn’t a dedicated source.”

“I just developed a really strong passion for affordable housing, because it was the only way to ensure that those complete communities had the base that they needed to use those services,” Yonke continued. “But also, it was the only way to really build those services as part of an affordable housing building because of the way that they’re financed.”

Yonke found her work with the City and County of Denver to be inspiring and filled with opportunities for serving the community, particularly in addressing housing needs. 

“During my time with the City, I have financed or developed at least 3,000 units of affordable housing in six years, several congregate shelters, several hotels as part of the mayor’s “House 1,000” effort and even before that,” Yonke shared. “We curated a pipeline of 2,500 supportive housing units, which is like the deepest affordability [units that are affordable at 30% of the area’s median income and below] for persons experiencing homelessness.”

Overcoming Obstacles to Affordable Housing

Looking to Denver as an example, real estate development for affordable housing units is presented with many challenges. With a limited number of available parcels of land, environmental contamination issues, the cost of the city’s green energy requirements, and regulatory pressures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are many causes for roadblocks to development.

Yonke and her team, however, pursued solutions to these challenges.

“The work that I do is very much economic and financially driven. So, to put a plug in for my [real estate development] class, it’s the only class that we have, currently, for real estate finance. We actually go through and create a pro forma from a sample development,” said Yonke. “I think what set me up well for this position with the Governor is that I had development and finance experience, such that I could identify unintended consequences of policies with a very progressive legislature.”

Yonke has not only moved across industries, and the country, in her career, but she’s also climbed the ladder to see urban planning, real estate development, and policies on myriad of scales. Her knowledge and energy are among many reasons students in the College of Architecture and Planning’s MURP program go on to have meaningful careers. 

Megan Yonke and Claire Dalby in their cap and gown at the CU Denver Commencement Ceremony.

Megan Yonke and classmate Claire Dalby at the 2017 CU Denver Commencement Ceremony.

Yonke’s Advice to MURP Students

Yonke reflected on her experiences as a student in the MURP program and offered some advice to current and future students, advice she also received as a student in the program.

“Ken Schroeppel made a comment in our first professions class that was really impactful to me, which is to have all the coffees you can and have all the meetups that you can,” recalled Yonke.

“One thing that is really unique about being a grad student is that people in the Denver Metro and Colorado, I think, are very generous with their time,” said Yonke. “My first internships were with Sue Powers [President of Urban Ventures, LLC], who I met through the professions class, and then through coffee. And then also Megan Devenport, with ULC and the Denver shared spaces program. Both of those things kind of came out of coffees.”

Yonke’s job as the Senior Policy Advisor for Housing in Governor Jared Polis’s administration began on Tuesday, January 16, 2024.

In a letter to Yonke’s colleagues upon her acceptance of the new position, she shared, “In that role, I hope to expand on our best practices throughout the State of Colorado, as well as to seek new ideas from experts throughout the country on how to improve the quality of life and affordability in the state I call home.”