Denver has rising housing prices. This is an obvious statistical fact, backed by plenty of data. What people fail to realize is that this is caused by two issues: an increase in demand, and a lack of supply.
Everyone agrees that demand is going up. Whether the demand is caused by people who were happy to have roommates suddenly needing more space because of the COVID-related trend toward working from home, or because we're an inexpensive city compared to many cities that line both coasts, or because we have too many good restaurants and venues and now we're desirable in a way we weren't ten or twenty years ago, is up for debate — and that is not my concern. The demand is here to stay, though, far as I can tell.
What nobody seems to mention is that we have a lack of supply. This has roots in many places: a lack of construction after the 2008 recession, construction-defect laws scaring builders away from building condos but, most of all, 80 percent of Denver being zoned exclusively for single-family dwellings. We don't need single-family neighborhoods to suddenly be filled with five-story apartment buildings, but we do need to legalize accessory dwelling units (ADUs) city-wide as quickly as possible, and we need to allow larger homes to be subdivided into multiple units, the way they used to do with all the big mansions in Capitol Hill.
Family sizes have dropped precipitously over the last century, and more people are staying single or at least childless than ever before. Single-family homes make up roughly half of all homes in Denver, yet they are increasingly out of reach of anyone who doesn't have existing wealth or a high-paying job.
Half of a 2,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home, perfect for a couple with a child, is affordable, and gives people in Denver an opportunity to have equity while also living somewhere that isn't downtown or on a major street corridor like Colorado Boulevard, while having a yard and access to good schools. One-fourth of a 3,000-square-foot home is fine for a single adult who wants to own something in Denver. Yet these sorts of arrangements are impossible under current zoning laws in much of the city, further exacerbating the divide between the haves (homeowners) and the have-nots (renters).
Denver must reform its zoning laws if we hope to slow the increase in home prices. Without reforming our zoning laws, things will just continue, and we will begin to look like San Francisco — where a shack now costs over $2 million.
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