May 07 2014

Denver’s Young Professionals Suffer in Affordable Housing Crisis

Congratulations! You just landed your dream entry-level urban planning job in your dream city of Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, you may go broke trying to find a rental apartment.

When I accepted my position in the planning department at Aurora Public Schools working in the suburbs of Denver, I began looking for a place to live. It’s a familiar situation for many young professionals who have just landed their first full-time job. Apartment criteria important to me were:

  • Close to work (in a suburb) and close to downtown;
  • Safe neighborhood;
  • Access to parks and open spaces; and
  • Walkability of the neighborhood to restaurants, grocery store, shopping, et cetera (I am a planner, after all).

My initial budget starting out was already more than double my rent while attending Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas (a beautiful college town with 50,000 full-time residents). Within thirty minutes of looking for apartments, my budget increased $200 per month. After driving out to Denver, looking at the neighborhoods within that price range per month, I finally settled on an architecturally significant and historic apartment in the Lowry area, an older New Urbanism development, for nearly three times what I was paying in my previous college-town rental.

Mixed-use and retail center in Lowry, Denver, Colorado

Mixed-use and retail center in Lowry, Denver, Colorado

The current median rent for a one-bedroom in Denver, of $1,000 per month, is historically high and is coupled with historically low vacancy rates. On top of that, millennials love Denver. In fact, right now it’s the number one destination for my generation. Denver is also one of the fastest growing cities in the country for all age groups. So simple rules of supply and demand says millennials have a problem:

  1. Personal finance experts suggest a person should spend no more than about 20% percent of their after-tax income on rent;
  2. Many recent graduates are out of work, underemployed, and under-paid relative to their historical counterparts;
  3. Demand for all housing in Denver is high;
  4. Rental rates in Denver are high;
  5. Rental unit vacancy rates in Denver are low.

I don’t know many recent grads that can pick up from where they went to school, pay for moving costs, and land in Denver with the ability to pay $900 to $1,000 for rent each month. And this only gains you access to living in even a decent neighborhood with the decent amenities a young professional might be looking for.

Newly-built in-fill apartment building in Denver, ColoradoNewly built in-fill apartment building in Denver, Colorado

Now I know that readers in Los Angeles and New York City are scoffing at this right now. But the reality is, Denver is much more expensive than most people expect when they move here.

Do you feel $1,000 per month is high rent in Denver? What rent controls would you suggest for the Denver area?

Credits: Images by Jonathan Knight. Data linked to sources.

Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight is an award-winning planner and a recent graduate of Kansas State University with a Master's of Regional and Community Planning and Minor in Business. His interest in planning probably came from his avid playing of "Roller Coaster Tycoon" as a child: always fascinated in how complex things in the built environment worked; how they fit together; and why people feel certain ways in different environments. He has worked in sustainability, regional planning, and school planning. He is a professional freelance photojournalist and has been published in national, regional, and local publications. Upon graduation, Jonathan followed his dreams of living near the Rocky Mountains and moved west to Denver, Colorado. At some point during his time at The Grid in 2014, he will have climbed all 58 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado--a 12-year journey completed! Jonathan will be blogging about innovative urban planning, transportation, and housing projects occurring in the Denver region as it seeks to be a world-class city for businesses and people.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 at 9:38 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Housing, Jonathan Knight. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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3 Responses to “Denver’s Young Professionals Suffer in Affordable Housing Crisis”

  1. Richard Hall Says:

    There is a fundamental issue with this article which is that a recent graduate should be able to afford their own apartment “in a decent neighborhood”.

    This speaks to a false entitlement. If / when you graduate you are likely to need to work for several years before you can afford an apartment of your very own, anywhere, let alone a decent neighborhood.

    In Europe (and why not the US now rents are increasing) the norm/expectation is that new graduates live in shared houses. I did this from age 22 – 27 in West London, living in not the best, not the worst area. I shared a house with 5 others.

    Why should new graduates in Denver be entitled to anything different?

  2. Rika Says:

    The same guy probably scoffs at “boomerangs” living with their parents too. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. I’m certain that after high school, Richard Hall was married with kids and has no idea what he’s talking about.

  3. Jonathan Knight Says:

    Hi Richard, please define “decent.” There are vast differences in neighborhood safety, quality, and basic aesthetics from say Five Points in Denver compared to Lowry or Stapleton in Denver.

    I’m not at all suggesting I should move into the penthouse at the Ritz, but a college graduate in the United States should be entitled to decent living conditions at least a step higher than what they were living in at college. I know many recent grads in Denver that are living in conditions barely higher than those they lived in during college and most of those areas were student slums (which is an entirely different topic). I/We don’t feel “entitled” to anything other than the fact that a college education and an average college education wage should entitle you to some living conditions of decency in a safe neighborhood.

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