Change of Plans

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The Northglenn school district had to close one middle school due to declining enrollment, and another may go soon. "It used to be all young families. Now they're all older people, retired -- a lot of the original homeowners," says Mott. "I think that Northglenn is in trouble, because we're surrounded and don't have any room to acquire and grow. We're in a really bad spot like that."

After 43 years, Mott and her husband had to sell their home -- for $185,000 -- because her husband has a walker and could no longer use the stairs. "We would've stayed there if we could," Mott says. "We loved that house."

They now live in a townhome nearby. Moving out of Northglenn "never even occurred to us," Mott says.

For years, terms like "inner-city" and "urban" have been used as euphemisms for poverty, minorities and crime, in the same way that the word "suburban" became a synonym for affluent, white homogeneity. But that doesn't describe areas in many inner-ring suburbs, such as northwest Aurora.

"Aurora is as urban of a city as Denver," says Preston Prince, executive director for the Aurora Housing Authority. "There is a lot of movement of traditional inner-city populations. There's gentrification of many traditionally African-American neighborhoods, so many are moving out to Green Valley Ranch and certain areas of Aurora." But as affluent whites move back into the cities, they push the poor out into places that they can afford. Donate a bike to a program for "inner-city kids," and it could be going to a youngster in suburban Lakewood or Westminster.

According to Mike Rinner, senior real-estate analyst with the Genesis Group, housing is in such demand in some central Denver neighborhoods that places like Washington Park and Platte Park saw zero foreclosures last year. "So that's a striking difference from when you get close to more than 2 percent of the existing housing stock across a metro area that's within foreclosure," he says.

"We can reasonably say that all the low-income people who lived in central Denver pretty much don't live there anymore," says Karen Lado of the Denver office for the Enterprise Foundation, a national community-development organization. "Where they are likely to go is those places that have older, less attractive housing stock."

The Enterprise Foundation commissioned a recent report on the affordability of the Denver housing market. While Denver County still has the lowest median family income and highest poverty rate of the five-county area, the 148-page analysis shows that housing available to lower-income residents is now generally concentrated in neighborhoods built during the '40s, '50s and '60s -- creating a vague ring around the edge of the city and just outside of it. While pre-WWII neighborhoods close to the core often have historic character with an intrinsic value, newer areas aren't buoyed by the same qualities. "It's a kind of housing stock that's not as attractive by modern standards," says Lado. "It doesn't have the appeal of the pre-war housing, and it doesn't have the amenities of the homes built after 1990."

In poorer southwest Denver neighborhoods like Mar Lee, Barnum West and Westwood, many of the homes are concrete-block construction or stucco built on a slab. "You don't even have basements in a lot of these places," Lado says. "And then you have neighborhoods that weren't built to any kind of code because they weren't incorporated."

These were among the last areas annexed by Denver. In 1974, Colorado voters -- worried by the specter of court-ordered busing -- approved the Poundstone Amendment, which prevented Denver from annexing additional areas, basically fencing off the city. "It was reflective of the times and the fear that people felt about the center city and minorities that lived there," says John Parr, senior counsel at the Alliance for Regional Stewardship. Outside of Denver, other unincorporated areas banded together. Lakewood, for example, grew out of a collection of neighborhoods that "pulled together in a pretty unholy alliance to make sure they wouldn't get annexed," Parr says.

Thirty years later, the demographic changes in these inner-ring suburbs are evident. Adams County School District 50, which covers southern Westminster, now has 62 percent of its students on free or reduced-cost lunches, a number that's close to the 72 percent of Denver Public Schools.

More immigrants are moving in, too, according to a study by the Brookings Institution. Though many immigrants still live within Denver's city limits, more than 50 percent of the population in sections of north Aurora, Lakewood and unincorporated Adams County are identified as foreign-born. In parts of Thornton and Federal Heights, that number is approaching 30 percent. Neighborhoods that were once almost exclusively white now have some of the largest minority populations in the metro area.

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Jared Jacang Maher