For a month, our reporters and editors brought you stories of your neighbors, your would-be neighbors and even people who struggle to survive under bridges. We are all affected by the rising costs of housing across the Denver area.
The problem is clear: Prices for homes and rents have skyrocketed in recent years. And though the trend shows signs of leveling out, prices are nothing like they were just a few years ago. Jumps in values of hundreds of thousands of dollars were common in the past five years. For instance, in Brighton, northeast of Denver, and in Littleton, to the south, home values rose $225,000-$300,000, respectively, between 2017 and 2022. Renters are also giving more of their paychecks to their landlords.
Experts at Denver-based Root Policy Research, which studies housing issues, say 700,000 Colorado families are “cost burdened.” The term describes households that devote 30% or more of their income to rent or mortgages. Alarmingly, even families earning as much as $75,000 can be considered burdened.
This week, we look at potential solutions, starting with some espoused by Jared Polis, the Democratic governor who last month surprised us with his intense focus on housing during his annual State of the State Address. Colorado “will soon face a spiraling point of no return” if housing remains on the course that it is now, Polis said.
Senior Reporter Ellis Arnold rushed to the Capitol for Polis' news conference after the speech, getting a few off-the-cuff answers. Billions of dollars have already been spent in recent years to make housing more affordable, the governor says. He highlighted federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, the stimulus that came during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, Colorado voters in November decided to earmark hundreds of millions of dollars a year through Proposition 123, which backs local housing affordability efforts.
Yet, for all the tax dollars involved, the governor says, “We can’t just buy our way out of this.” Local rules, like zoning, need to be addressed too, he said.
Experts have told our reporters the same. Reporter McKenna Harford looks at how changes to zoning, among other strategies, can make housing more affordable. Meanwhile, reporter Luke Zarzecki looks at how the development of our cities contributes to health-harming pollution and how ideas like better-planned transit can improve our air and reduce climate change. Reporters Belen Ward and Steve Smith look at tiny homes and how difficult it can be to find a home, even with some help.
In the end, there is no one solution and, frankly, the problem looks like it will continue, and potentially worsen, in the months ahead. Yet we acknowledge efforts to reverse the trend, including collaborations between federal, state and local officials on myriad projects in our communities. We also hope that they are successful and that Colorado does not turn into what Polis decries — his portrayal of California as a poorly-planned nightmare, where residents face shortages in drinking water, commute on clogged highways and pay $1 million for a typical home.
In the months ahead, we plan to follow up with officials and hold them accountable for their promises to improve the situation. We will ask for specifics and then seek out local leaders and residents for their reactions. We also plan forums where our readers and local leaders can join us to speak about the work that needs to be done. In the meantime, we welcome your letters with ideas.
Contributors to the project include:
Michael de Yoanna
Deborah Grigsby Smith
Deb Hurley Brobst