The Coloradan Holds Its Affordable-Housing Lottery

Rendering of the Coloradan.
Rendering of the Coloradan.
The Coloradan
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Did you get lucky?

The Coloradan, a fancy new residential building behind Union Station that's one of the rare recent Denver projects to actually sell homes, not just rent them, held a lottery on June 19 for the 33 affordable units set aside under 2014’s revised Inclusionary Housing Ordinance (IHO). The units, all one- or two-bedroom condos, are listed at $230,751 and $285,936. The rest of the Coloradan's 234 units start at $750,000 and range up to $3,300,000...definitely unaffordable for most people.

Demand for the affordable units was understandably high: Brad Arnold, vice president of sales and marketing for the Coloradan, reports that well over 600 potential buyers were interested. To narrow that down, the Coloradan reduced the pool to those who qualified under affordable-housing guidelines, could still handle monthly mortgage payments of $1,700 to $2,000, and understand that there are specific limitations on any resale. Then, on June 19, the company called the 33 lucky lottery winners (their names are not being made public) to notify them of their selection.

Work on the project — a collaboration between developer East West Partners and real estate firm Ascentris — began in 2014 as developers started creating design plans. At the same time, they talked with Denver's Office of Economic Development regarding the IHO, which required that they either pay into a fund to be used by the city to provide affordable housing elsewhere, or provide it themselves, setting aside 10 percent of the Coloradan's total units.

Arnold says the decision to build rather than buy their way out of the city's affordable-housing requirement was easy. “It’s the right thing to do,” he explains. “Our biggest task as developer is to build community, and in doing that we wanted to build an inclusive community. The affordable homes are part of that inclusivity.”

That inclusivity, however, is limited by city-imposed standards. To qualify for affordable housing at the Coloradan, interested families and individuals had to fall between 50 and 95 percent of Denver’s Area Median Income (AMI) levels. For an individual, that's an income of $31,500 to $59,850. For a family, it's a collective income of $52,150 to $99,085. Either is still a big chunk of change for most Coloradans.

One of the Coloradan's affordable homes.
One of the Coloradan's affordable homes.
The Coloradan

The Office of Economic Development dedicates a page on the OED website to affordable housing. In the section titled “Who Does This Problem Affect?,” the city first offers a fast answer — everyone — before offering examples of affected members of the Denver workforce: dishwashers, waiters/waitresses, home-health aides, teaching assistants, bank tellers, veterinary technicians, bus drivers, community health workers. Of those categories, all but the final three would likely be ineligible for an affordable unit at the Coloradan, failing to meet the minimum AMI.

Denver City Council President Albus Brooks, who represents this part of Denver, says that the Coloradan's requirements do not mean the city is ignoring the housing needs of those who fall beneath 50 percent of Denver's AMI level. Rather, it marks a dividing point for funds: The 50-to-95 percent AMI range is subsidized from one pot, zero to 50 percent from another. The Coloradan falls in the top half, he notes: “I think what it adds is kind of our young professionals, folks who are in the workforce but above traditional workforce housing.”

In describing an ideal lottery candidate, Arnold offers this example: a young woman, recently graduated from college, who's soon to start her first job with a salary of fifty or sixty thousand dollars.

And if her name was picked on June 19, she can start the paperwork today.

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