What Denver Renters Love and Hate Most About Living in the Mile High City

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The new Denver Renter Confidence Survey from reveals that most local renters give the Mile High City excellent marks, placing it among the most highly rated large cities in the country. But there are warning signs in the findings, including great discontent with high rent costs and other daily expenses, as discussed in our recent post "Why It's So Hard to Make a Living in Denver Despite Strong Economy."

More than 30,000 renters responded to the survey, according to The complete results are on page two of this post — but although Denver earned an A- for overall satisfaction, the city received a putrid grade of D for affordability.

To get more information about the results, we reached out to Andrew Woo, the site's director of data science. The following Q&A, conducted via e-mail, digs into the details in many categories, with Woo noting that while Denver's positives currently outweigh the negatives in the view of survey takers, there's no guarantee that will remain the case if the price of rent and plenty of other things in the metro area continue to rise.

Also on page two below are the April median rent estimates for one- and two-bedroom apartments in a slew of Denver neighborhoods, plus graphics depicting the upward trends and more. But first, here's the interview.

Westword: What do renters like best about Denver?

Andrew Woo: Renters are very satisfied with Denver overall, putting Denver among the highest-rated large cities. Renters are particularly pleased with the recreational activities in Denver, including nightlife, public parks and outdoor activities. Denver renters also ranked the city’s pet friendliness, weather and public transportation as some of their favorite elements of life in Denver.

Jobs and career opportunities received a B+ grade. Is this grade up, down or holding steady — and how important is it when it comes to overall satisfaction with the city?

Denver’s B+ grade indicates that for many renters, jobs are a major draw to the city and one of the reasons for high overall satisfaction. Job satisfaction is very important to overall satisfaction with a city. Low optimism about jobs in a city can indicate that residents may move to other cities for better career opportunities.

In 2014, our survey asked Denver residents about their confidence in the local economy. Renters gave Denver an A- in that category, indicating a consistently high level of satisfaction in jobs in the city over the past two years.

Recreational activities received an A- grade overall. Is this an indication that the people who want to live in Denver remain active no matter their age?

The abundance of outdoor activities is a major draw for Denver residents, who enjoy staying active. Although outdoor recreational activities were cited by renters as a primary reason for their satisfaction with the city, other recreational activities such as the nightlife were also popular. High ratings for recreational activities indicate that both younger and older residents enjoy the active lifestyle Denver offers.

Denver renters gave the city an overall A- grade, yet the grade for cost of living was a D. Is this one of the lower grades in any category for a city that ended up with such high overall marks?

There are other cities that received low ratings for cost of living but where renters remained satisfied with the city overall. For example, in San Francisco, renters gave affordability an F, but the city overall received an A-. Cities such as Denver with poor affordability grades but high overall marks are ones where renters are so happy with other elements of the city such as jobs and recreational activities that they are willing to make sacrifices to pay the rent.

Does the cost of living grade include the cost of rent?

The affordability/cost of living rank is based on how renters rate their satisfaction with the city’s cost of living. Since rent is the largest expense for most renters, this would be a major factor in their cost of living rating.

In Denver, high rent has been a major issue among renters for several years. Did you get a sense that frustration on this issue is reaching critical mass — or do most of the people answering the survey like other aspects of the city so much that even though they're unhappy about rent prices, they're outweighed by all of Denver's other attributes?

Denver residents’ frustration with rising rents is clearly shown by the D affordability grade they gave Denver. Most renters still gave the city high grades for other factors, showing they are satisfied with most aspects of the city and enjoying living in Denver. It’s possible that renters who were less satisfied with the city overall were already driven away by the high rents. The renters who have decided to stay in Denver feel that the city’s other positive attributes outweigh the high cost of living.

What does the data show about why millennials gave Denver higher grades than parents with kids?

Poor grades for schools and affordability are the primary reasons parents rated Denver lower than millennials. While millennials may be willing to put up with the high cost of living because they enjoy the recreational activities and weather, parents are less likely to do so. Additionally, parents are hit harder by the high cost of living because they need to rent a large home to fit a family.

Does there appear to be growing dissatisfaction among parents about the quality of schools in Denver, as judged by the C- mark?

Denver parents are growing increasingly dissatisfied with Denver schools. In 2015, Denver parents gave the schools a C- grade, whereas in 2014 they gave the schools a B-.

Commute times also earned a mediocre score of C. If this mark doesn't improve, does it carry the risk of pulling down the overall grade?

Renters were less satisfied with commute times in 2015 compared to 2014, when they gave commutes a B+ grade. If Denver residents continue to become more unhappy with commute times, overall renter satisfaction with the city will decline as well. Denver residents were happy with public transportation options, giving it a B+ grade, so dissatisfaction with commute time may be driven by people who drive to work.

Does the crime and safety grade of B indicate that most renters see Denver as a safe city overall?

Yes, a B safety grade indicates that, although there is room for improvement, Denver renters view the city as a safe place to live.

Are there any major warning signs for Denver when it comes to maintaining its strong grade, and if so, what are they?

The biggest factor that is bringing down Denver’s renter satisfaction is affordability. If rents and general cost of living continue to rise in Denver, renters may begin to leave the city despite satisfaction with other aspects of the city, such as the recreational activities, weather and pet friendliness. Additionally, high cost of living combined with poor ratings for Denver schools should be a warning sign that Denver may start driving away families. Investment in public transportation and affordable housing will play an important role in Denver maintaining its strong renter satisfaction grade.

Continue for the full results of the Denver Renter Confidence Survey, plus information about April 2017 rent prices in many Denver neighborhoods and more.