Denver Post Guest Commentary –

As developers, we’ve had the good fortune to participate in the revitalization of Denver. Where there once were boarded-up and blighted buildings, we now enjoy a vibrant, thriving city that is attracting new residents from around the country, lured by our healthy job market and excellent quality of life.

But with these positive economic trends comes a downside. As mothers, we are concerned that our city is no longer an affordable place for many people who are critical to our shared future.

Middle-class families, seniors, people with low incomes and young people just starting out in the job market are all having a hard time paying the rent in Denver and around the state.

In Colorado’s six largest metro areas, there are around 600,000 renter households. About 158,000 of them, or 26 percent, pay at least half of their household income, before taxes, toward rent and utilities. Housing experts consider that an indication of serious financial stress.

As longtime community builders, we worry about the future of our neighborhoods and what rising rents mean for the moms and dads who take their children to our playgrounds, the grandmothers who keep an eye on the block, and the young people whose creative energy will carry our city into the future.

All should be able to afford to rent homes here that meet their needs and enable them to contribute to our society.

But right now, Denver is short 30,000 affordable homes. Mothers Advocating for Affordable Housing, the new group we have formed, intends to put the housing affordability issue at the top of our civic leaders’ agendas.

Recently, we were pleased to see the Make Room campaign — a nationwide effort to promote solutions for renters — shine a spotlight on Denver. Make Room’s analysis found a sharp increase in the number of people ages 24-35 living with roommates in Denver and around the country.

Having roommates can be a good choice for young people just starting out. But this trend is concerning because it indicates that millennials are increasingly removed from financial independence.

The economic stress of low wage growth, rising rents and unprecedented levels of student loan debt leaves young people unable to save. It forces them to put off forming households and buying homes until much later in life.

To highlight millennials’ economic struggles, Make Room produced a moving documentary about Devin Hallford, a 24-year-old bar manager and aspiring graphic designer in Denver.

Earning low wages, he has struggled to find a living situation he can afford for more than a few months. He recently moved (for the 10th time in five years) into a new place with roommates. Before that, he was living in the unfinished basement of a friend’s rental home — a step away from no home at all.

Like Devin, far too many Coloradans are stuck paying far too much of their income just to keep a roof over their heads.

The economic stress on Denver’s millennials, working families and seniors is one reason our citizens, business community and nonprofit leaders should support Mayor Michael Hancock’s $150 million affordable housing plan. The mayor and his team are working to identify at least $15 million a year to create or preserve at least 6,000 affordable homes.

Without a stable place to live, it is difficult to secure and retain employment, keep kids in the same school and stay healthy. More broadly, our local economy suffers when people are forced to spend too much of their income on rent. If businesses set up shop elsewhere because of a lack of affordable homes, our whole region will suffer.

That’s not a future we want for anyone in our communities. Let’s work together to create a permanent funding source for affordable homes in Denver.

Susan Powers is the president of Urban Ventures in Denver. Dana Crawford is a Denver developer.

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