Affordable Housing a Tough Sell in Stapleton

There's room for everyone in Stapleton, but after five years, developers are having trouble finding room for affordable housing.

Mindy Sunday moved into Roslyn Court just over a year ago, after receiving the full $22,000 down payment grant. Her daughter and son-in-law were one of the first couples to buy a regular Stapleton home, and she decided to relocate from her apartment in the Alamo Placita neighborhood to be closer to her grandchild. Her daughter found her the one-bedroom place for $124,000. "This allows me to be an available grandparent without going broke," says Sunday, who started her own business as a kitchen designer after six years of working for Home Depot. "Do I enjoy living here? I'm getting used to it. This is living in suburbia of sorts, but it's not like the other suburbs I've been to."

But Sunday, who never owned a home before, says affordable living is accompanied by a stigma. Once, at a Christmas party on her daughter's street, a man stopped speaking to her when he learned where she lives. "This is a good financial move and investment," she says. "Did I like it when that guy walked away from me? I'm not used to being discriminated against."

Worse, though, are the problems within Roslyn Court itself. In recent months, residents have complained of thin walls, crumbling balconies, and a concrete base that slopes into the center of the development rather than away from it. They've prompted their homeowners' association to look into a possible lawsuit against the builder. Sunday notices the noises coming through the walls most of all. "If you're in the bathroom, you can hear the toilet paper coming off the roll from the other side of the wall," she says.

Mark Manger
Nicoleta Nagel and her daughter live in Stapleton's Syracuse Village.
Mark Manger
Nicoleta Nagel and her daughter live in Stapleton's Syracuse Village.

Down the street, Syracuse Village also faced initial setbacks. BMW Realty Group — owned by former Denver Broncos Claudie Minor Jr. and Odell Barry, along with an executive named Thomas Williams — was commissioned to build it. But the partners quit a third of the way through when they couldn't find enough potential customers to move forward.

"When we began that process, we understood that there was a list of 1,100 folks that were interested in being at Stapleton," says Minor. "But when we got into the mix of it all, not all of those folks were qualified buyers." In most cases, they made too much money to qualify, he adds.

Forest City's Gleason wouldn't comment on the situation.

BMW Realty sold its property back to Forest City. "You know, Forest City is the 900-pound gorilla. We were little fellows," says Minor, adding that Stapleton's main developer could better afford to build and hold on to empty homes. But construction on Syracuse Village stalled for nine months as Forest City got ready to take over the project. At the same time, some low-income buyers who were prepared to move in were told to wait it out. But many ended up dropping out of the program anyway.


To help get its affordable program back on track, Forest City will change course for an upcoming project called 29th Drive Row Homes by donating land to the developer, New Town Builders.

"Our last estimate was that it was at least a $20 to $30 million subsidy that no one anticipated," says Knott about the cost of donating the land. "Because of our contract with the city, we need to do what we need to do."

But Forest City is looking to 29th Drive as both a referendum on the affordable program and an indicator as to how the market will swing in the next several months. The homes will be located much farther into the development rather than on the edge of Park Hill, and they'll be side-by-side townhomes rather than apartment-style units. Buyers will be able to choose between a few different color schemes for cabinets and countertops before they move in — all in the name of enhancing what it means to be a homeowner. A three-bedroom unit will go for $168,900.

"They're bigger and nicer, and it's going to end up seeming like a real value compared to the first couple of products," says Damon Knop, who sells Stapleton's affordable homes for New Town Builders.

Each building will include six to eight units, but New Town will only construct one or two at a time, testing the market to see whether there's enough interest to construct all nine of the anticipated buildings. Success depends largely on whether qualified buyers will be able to access secure loans. Right now there are twelve potential customers lined up.

"If everyone ends up getting rejected, then that tells us something," Knott says. "If you can't make loans, you can't sell units. In the next thirty days, we'll know if it's true that everything is shut down or that we need to keep a more careful eye on it." If that happens, Forest City may switch its focus to affordable rentals, which tend to fill up quickly.

Whether Stapleton's ideals about inclusiveness mean anything to the average homebuyer — or the affordable one — is another question.

"At the end of the day, people buy their homes on whatever their own criteria are," says former councilwoman Haynes. "We share as much as we can, but do those principles enter into their decision making when they purchase a home or move into a community? Who knows?"

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