In 2009, our annual real estate feature began like this: “Enough already. Yes, these are the worst economic conditions since your grandfather’s primary vehicle was a tricycle, with no end and little clarity in sight. So let’s gather ourselves and sort out which numbers really matter and which ones merely perpetuate the fear that’s gripped the financial and real estate markets for months.” That year, foreclosures were down for the first time in recent memory, and home prices had decreased by just 5.1 percent over a little more than a year, making Denver one of the United States’ top housing markets.
Six and a half years later, one could be forgiven for applying the cliché “the more things change, the more they stay the same” to the Denver housing scene. Millennials, who are seeking dynamic jobs that allow for a decent work-life balance—and perks, such as ample sunshine and proximity to one of the country’s finest natural playgrounds—are moving to the Mile High City in unprecedented numbers. With this influx of new residents, the housing market has remained one of the nation’s strongest: This year alone, rents are up nine percent and home prices are up 10 percent over 2014. But as homeowners watch their investments grow, others are being shut out of metro Denver.
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Senior staff writer Robert Sanchez examines that complicated dynamic in this month’s “The Two Sides Of Denver’s Real Estate Boom”. Sanchez spent weeks reporting before he found the primary subjects of the piece: a nontraditional student who’s struggling to find an apartment to rent; a young investor who’s sunk half a million dollars into a fixer-upper northeast of downtown; and new city Councilman Rafael Espinoza, who has been an outspoken advocate for more affordable housing options. Espinoza believes the city council has a responsibility to seriously and practically address the affordable housing issue; Mayor Michael Hancock has also unveiled a $150 million proposal to try to deal with the problem over the next 10 years.
But will it be enough? “Outside of city council members, there was very much an, ‘Oh well, what are you going to do?’ attitude from the general public,” Sanchez says of the feedback he received during his reporting. “People lamented high rents and home prices, but they seemed to think there wasn’t anything to be done about it.”
That sort of apathy won’t serve the city well as more and more people decide to make Denver their home. “It’s turned into a real economic development issue,” Joe Vostrejs, the COO of Larimer Associates, told the Denver Post this past summer. “If cities want to have affordable housing, they’ve got to roll up their sleeves.” We’ll see in the coming months how the city council tackles the issue, and we’ll find out if the mayor has the political capital to make his modest proposal work. And if nothing substantive changes, don’t be too surprised if the Rent Is Too Damn High political party makes an appearance in Denver in 2016.