Soaring rents squeeze more Denver families

· Mar. 12, 2014, 6:00 am
Photo: For Rent Sign(Photo: Courtesy of Abbey Hendrickson via Flickr)
Two years ago Beatriz Orozco escaped her abusive husband and moved in with her sister in north Denver. Now she’s confronting a new crisis: their landlord has given them until the end of the month to move out and find a new rental. 
She says one of the cheapest places she found, which could barely fit her, her sister and their four children was a three-bedroom for $1,700 a month. More than half the family’s income.
“It would be more like 90-percent,” Orozco says in Spanish through an interpreter.
Orozco is not alone; a review of census data by CPR found that 1 in 4 renters in the Denver area are severely rent burdened, meaning more than 50-percent of their income goes towards rent. 
Rising rents are partially to blame. In less than five years, rents jumped 20-percent in the metro area, while personal incomes have only increased 4-percent.
The foreclosure crisis kicked many Coloradans out of their homes and into the rental market, where they’re competing for units with newcomers migrating here from California and the Midwest. More than 95-percent of available apartments or houses in the Denver area are filled, according to the Colorado Division of Housing.
“I’m just looking for a three bedroom that don’t have bed bugs, roaches and rats,” Dionza Bryant, a mother of three living in northeast Denver, says.
Bryant is actually one of the lucky ones. After waiting 3 years, she finally received a letter from the Housing Authority about her application for federal Section 8 rental assistance.
“I opened it and I read it, and it said I was approved, and I was like, ‘yes, thank you!’”
Bryant, who’s unemployed and going to community college, now has her rent covered.  
Mag Strittmatter is the executive director of a low income support program called The Action Center in Lakewood. She says there’s just not much aid out there.
“It’s small and it’s limited, it’s very limited,” Strittmater says. “I mean getting a golden ticket to get into Section 8 is like winning the lottery.”
That’s often literally true; Strittmater says housing agencies in the metro area have so many people on the waiting list for rental assistance that they hold lotteries for the coveted spots.
Strittmater says the overall trends in the metro area don’t look good for renters of all incomes, and she feels little attention is being paid to the problem.
“You are overlooking a crisis that is bubbling from the bottom up,” Strittmater says. 
Strittmater, and economists agree, it’s not healthy for so many households to spend so much of their income on just housing in a consumer-based economy.  
“Because it also goes back to how much people have to spend on discretionary wise,” Strittmater says. “It goes to the whole larger picture of the economy.”
Unfortunately for Denver’s renters there is no good short-term solution; no big affordable housing projects are being built in the area and many of the apartments that are being built are higher-end, smaller units in and around downtown.  
Shannon Peer with the Denver housing counseling agency Brothers Redevelopment says clients have been forced into smaller units in bad neighborhoods, but still end up paying the majority of their income in rent. 
“When that happened in the housing market with homeowners, we saw a lot of foreclosures,” Peer says.
And if the economy takes a turn for the worse, and payments are missed in the rental market, Peer expects to see a lot of evictions.

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