Denver gentrifies: homeless working families a casualty FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 13 Nov 1998 04:28:24 -0400
FWD  Denver Post [Commentary) - Nov. 10, 1998

The Vail syndrome spreading

By Diane Carman
Denver Post Staff Columnist

Nov. 10 - The Rev. Ed Judy is seeing more and more
of them. They are the casualties of a booming
economy. They are hungry, scared and have no place
to go.

They have jobs - sometimes more than one - but
that's still not enough. Colorado's working poor
are finding that the faster they go, the behinder
they get.

One of the biggest problems is the booming real
estate market. The average monthly apartment rent
in Denver jumped 5.5 percent over last year to hit
$685.48 in October. The vacancy rate was 3.9
percent, the lowest since 1995.

The lowest vacancy rates are in the category of
apartments that rent for $700 a month or less.
Fewer of them are available just as more families
are arriving to fill the growing demand for
service-sector workers.

Father Ed describes a typical casualty of the
booming economy like this:

Even in families where two parents are working,
the high cost of child care, transportation and
other necessities leaves them barely making ends
meet. Their landlord increases the rent, but their
wages don't go up enough to cover it.

The family is evicted and, in addition to being
homeless, now they must deal with a bad credit
rating. With low-cost housing in such short
supply, no landlord will bother with the risk of
renting to them. In no time, they find their way
to Father Ed's doorstep at Samaritan House where
they seek shelter.

"The economy may seem good,'' said Father Ed, "but
low unemployment has produced lots of low-end jobs
and lots of pressure on the housing market. And
that doesn't help families.''

Now nobody, least of all Father Ed, is saying that
what we need is a good old-fashioned recession.
We've all seen the casualties from that in
increased crime, domestic violence and hunger - as
well as homelessness.

But the old saw about a rising tide lifting all
boats is little more than a blinder the rich use
so they don't have to see the problems of the

In an economy where real estate values in much of
the city have doubled in the past six years,
there's not much incentive for providing low-cost
housing. Heck, if you can tidy up a warehouse and
sell loft space for $250 a square foot, why on
earth would you do anything else?

So Denver has come to share a problem folks in
Aspen and Vail are all too familiar with. We love
having folks around to bake our bagels at 4 each
morning and to keep the mushrooming number of
hotel rooms clean. We just don't pay them enough
to live here.

Maybe now that we've used tax incentives,
enterprise zones and all manner of government
sweet-talking to attract new employers to the
region, it's time to consider more private-sector
incentives for low-cost housing.

In some cities, developers interested in building
luxury housing can mitigate their property tax
liability dramatically by providing decent
low-cost housing at the same time. Cities also
have been known to provide fast-track permit
processing, low-interest loans and even
development grants to builders willing to help
fill this important need.

More well-devised tax breaks, a bit of
encouragement from the mayor's office and a few
more projects like the Lowry redevelopment plan
would go a long way toward getting families of the
working poor in out of the snow.

Diane Carman's commentaries appear here Tuesday,
Thursday and Saturday.

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