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Why It's So Hard to Find a Budget Apartment in Denver

An apartment complex at 1590 Little Raven Street.
An apartment complex at 1590 Little Raven Street.
zillow.com file photo
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Why is it so hard to find a reasonably priced apartment in Denver right now? One reason is that so few of them are being built, because developers continue to focus the vast majority of their resources on projects that only rich people can afford.

Indeed, a new study finds that 88 percent of apartment projects built within Denver city limits in 2017 and 2018 to date fall into the luxury or high-end category. And believe it or not, this number is actually down from the  percentage of high-end projects built over the previous few years.

The report, just issued by RENTCafe, identifies the disproportionate number of luxury apartment buildings under construction as a national trend. Across the U.S., luxury projects accounted for 79 percent of new apartment units in 2017.

For better or worse, Denver was definitely ahead of this particular curve. Data shows that 96 percent of apartment construction in the Mile High City circa 2015 fell into the luxury bucket, which is defined this way by Yardi Matrix, a RENTCafe affiliate:

Attracted to the extreme upper end of the apartment market; properties generally of resort quality, clearly appealing to households capable of owning a residence, but choosing to rent, or households with substantial incomes, but without wealth. The luxury rental category primarily focuses on empty nester households, or more particularly, high net worth households. The renter-by-choice household is demanding; finishing detail and amenities included in properties appealing to this category must be of exceptional quality.

Inside a unit at 975 North Lincoln Street.
Inside a unit at 975 North Lincoln Street.
zillow.com file photo

The scenario is somewhat better in the broader metro area, where 74 percent of apartment construction projects in 2017 were luxury/high-end — although that figure has bumped up to 78 percent in 2018.

These digits suggest that renters with more modest resources are being pushed away from the city center to outlying suburbs — and so does specific data about other communities not included in the report but supplied to Westword.

According to RENTCafe, 50 percent of apartment complexes built in Parker, 71 percent in Fort Collins and 80 percent in Englewood were luxury/high-end in 2017.

In contrast, figures show that a jaw-slackening 100 percent of apartment projects in Colorado Springs during that same period were aimed at the upper crust.

But knowing that inequities are even worse elsewhere is unlikely to offer much comfort to Denver renters with a limited amount of money to spend. 

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