Denver celebrates hitting 5-year affordable housing milestone in 4 years; what's next?

DENVER – Denver officials are celebrating the early completion of a five-year initiative to build more affordable housing in the city.

Later this month, residents will start moving in to the Ash Street Apartments at 1170 Ash St. in Denver’s Hale neighborhood. Ash Street’s 112 apartments are limited to people who earn up to 60 percent of the area’s median income – that’s $35,280 for one person and $45,360 for a family of three.

The $24.9 million project marks the completion of Mayor Michael Hancock’s “3x5” housing initiative, which he announced in his State of the City address in 2013. The plan aimed to build or preserve 3,000 affordable housing units in Denver over a five-year period.

The city accomplished that goal in just four years.

During that time, Denver added 49 housing developments with 3,004 units considered affordable, including 2,865 rental units and 139 for-sale homes.

According to the city, 71 percent of those units are in areas that are vulnerable to gentrification and 97 percent of them are within a quarter-mile of a frequent-service bus line.

Hancock said he “couldn’t be prouder” of the city for accomplishing its goal a year ahead of time.

“The opening of Ash Street Apartments is a major milestone, and we’re going to continue to pull on every lever we can to offer more affordable options for our residents,” he said.

What’s next?

Anyone familiar with Denver’s current housing market knows there’s still plenty of work to do. Home prices and rents continue to rise and families are having an increasingly hard time making ends meet.

Denver is outpacing many other major metro areas in new apartment construction, with more than 13,000 apartments expected to be built by year’s end. But many of those aren’t in the “affordable” range.

The Denver Office of Economic Development says it’s funding or administering nearly 1,000 affordable units currently under construction. In addition, 18 new affordable housing developments are expected to begin construction by this time next year, adding more than 1,600 units.

In his State of the City address earlier this week, Hancock reaffirmed his commitment to housing and announced a plan to rent out 400 vacant apartments in the city to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them. That plan is still in the works but should start rolling out in a couple months, providing some temporary relief to the city’s ongoing affordability problem.

Hancock also has established a $150 million fund dedicated to affordable housing and set up the Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere, which aims to take a comprehensive approach to helping Denver’s vulnerable populations find housing, jobs and health care.

At the state level, legislators this year approved a bill that aims to encourage more condominium construction by making it harder for homeowners’ associations to sue builders over alleged faulty construction. Critics have said the law previously hindered condo construction in the state.

Since condos tend to be priced lower than single-family homes, industry experts hope an increase in construction will ease some of the pressure at the lower end of the real estate market and possibly slow the rate of price increases.

Homes under $400,000 represented just 26 percent of all homes for sale in June, according the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. In 2011, homes in that price range accounted for 65 percent of listings.

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