Two Sides to Denver’s Economic Growth


Denver has grown up in a hurry. Once economically quiet, Denver has rapidly become one of the country’s hottest cities. Media outlets have noticed: America’s Top 20 Healthiest Cities. Best Place to Live in The US. Top US Cities for Entrepreneurs and Start-Ups.

Unfortunately, economic growth has also led to increases in the cost of living.  Between 2015 and 2016, property values jumped 14% and median household income grew by 5.35%. Denver’s rising costs of living are pushing lower income individuals out of the city and into its suburbs.

What once were affordable neighborhoods for those living below the poverty line are now often turned into high-end developments. The city imposes fines on developers who forgo affordable housing, however, some developers are still going forward with gentrification projects and just paying the fines.

Josie Cosio expects her legacy in the now highly developed Five Points neighborhood of Denver, to end with her. “It makes me cry that we can’t stay here and keep these roots that we have developed here,” she told the Denver Post.

Addressing the Crisis

To address the growing affordable housing shortage, Denver launched the city’s first dedicated affordable housing fund in 2017.  The fund is expected to accumulate $150 million over 10 years, funded by property taxes and new development impact fees. But, Denver isn’t assuming they can use the $150 million to “build their way out” of the housing crisis.

“We don’t just want people to have a home,” said Mayor Michael Hancock during an address at the 2017 Denver Housing Summit. “We want them to be able to stay in [their homes], build their lives and families and build their futures. That means we must go beyond putting a roof over someone’s head.”

The Office of Housing & Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE), also newly-established in 2017, has piloted transportation assistance, renter eviction assistance, and home preservation programs – all which take steps to increase the quality of life of struggling Denver natives.

Community preservationists are also offering incentives to developers, with the allure of reduced height restrictions if developers add five times more affordable housing to their developments. Their hope is to encourage the creation of affordable housing, so that developers will provide affordable housing rather than pay a fine.

Negative Effects of Losing Affordable Housing

While there are many physical impacts of the gentrification of a city, the mental and emotional stressors of losing a home are often forgotten. Randi Smith, a professor of Psychology at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, who has focused much of her research on students experiencing homelessness, stresses the mental impacts of “living on the margins.” She explains, “Being marginalized means more than being poor. It often means social isolation, shame, humiliation, and feelings of helplessness. It contributes to depression.”

Jo Daugherty Bailey, Associate Professor of Social Work and MSW Program Director of MSU Denver, also highlights this sense of insecurity felt by those that lack basic human needs. “There are basic necessities that those in the world’s wealthiest country should have access to, including a living wage, affordable and safe housing, food, transportation, education, and health care.” But, Bailey explains that there are a large number of people excluded “from living a safe and stable existence because one or more of these necessities is beyond their reach.” These things, she says, are inherently connected and profoundly affect well-being.

Putting Warmth Within Reach

child in operation warm coatLack of affordable housing presents a challenge to meeting one basic need for every family. In Denver, where the median winter temperature is 31 degrees, another basic need is a winter coat. But about 25% of children in Denver live in poverty – and with other necessities to cover like housing, parents often are unable to provide their children a warm winter coat.

At Operation Warm, we believe that every child, regardless of economic circumstance, deserves a brand new winter coat.  Providing a child a brand new winter coat not only keeps the child safe and warm throughout the winter months, it can also improve self-confidence and peer acceptance. A brand new winter coat gives a child hope, and even on the worst weather days that child is able to get to school, where they can get the nutritious meals and education they need to improve their lives.

We’re not alone! Operation Warm’s partners in Denver brought warmth, confidence and hope to nearly 3,000 children in need last year.  This past November, for example, thanks to our partners from Hollister Co., Hollister employees provided a gift of warmth to hundreds of children when they visited Valverde Elementary School in Denver.





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