By Joey Bunch
Denver Post Staff Writer
Greenwood Village – For John Purchio, the American dream of home ownership was just that – a dream. The single 50-year-old could not afford a home near his job as a grade-school custodian in Highlands Ranch.
And despite a record of employment and good credit, he was squeezed out of the home market in most of south metro – like countless middle-class workers, housing advocates say.
“I know a lot of teachers in the same boat,” Purchio said last week, as he prepared to move into a condo in Parker made possible with the help of the Douglas County Housing Partnership.
While north Douglas and south Arapahoe counties make up one of the country’s wealthiest and fastest-growing communities, that opulence is driving up home prices and driving out its middle-class workforce.
Rent in the region is no bargain, either, on average $1,100 for a two- bedroom apartment, according to the partnership.
“It’s the quiet crisis,” said Craig Maraschky, executive director. “But I think we’re going to have to be talking about affordable housing for a long time to come.”
Government programs are trying to stem the exodus with down-payment assistance and subsidized communities.
If not, Maraschky said, every new restaurant or store in these high-priced housing markets means highways clog with more commuters, or businesses will struggle to find affordable help.
Maddy Crowell, a 45-year-old retail clerk at Park Meadows mall, already commutes nearly an hour each day by bus and light rail to and from downtown Aurora.
“People are strained to pay for a car, strained to pay for gas, strained to pay for insurance,” she said. “I wonder all the time what people do for a living to afford to live in Lone Tree.”
Arapahoe and Douglas counties are even helping build affordable apartments.
Last month, MBR Development Co. broke ground on the second phase of Lincoln Pointe Lofts in the Meridian Office Park. With the help of tax breaks and other incentives from Douglas County, MBR will add 88 apartments to the 133 that opened in 2004.
This year, the same developer opened the 104-unit Prentice Place Lofts in the Denver Tech Center, which filled up quickly with restaurant and office workers, MBR partner Tim Roble said.
Rent starts at about $600 a month in each community, limited to those who earn $35,850 a year or less. In Greenwood Village, per-capita income is $80,188, according to the city.
Arapahoe County, Greenwood Village and other public agencies worked on the Tech Center housing deal, worth an estimated $500,000 in incentives.
Mike Krause, a fellow at the Independence Institute in Golden, a free-market think tank, sees such government meddling in the marketplace as pernicious.
Government lures economic development with abatements and incentives, but when those businesses don’t pay enough for workers to live nearby, the government bails out those businesses again, he said.
Subsidizing housing for workers, he said, allows businesses to pay less to retain a workforce.
“Governments are creating the need for more subsidies with their original subsidies,” he said. “This isn’t how our economy is designed to work.”
But Roble said government money alone isn’t filling the need.
“Affordable housing is a continuous problem,” he said, “but the ability to build them is limited by the availability of programs.”
If the problem is left to the market, it probably won’t be addressed, said Jim Taylor, Arapahoe County’s housing and community development director.
“As a developer, you go where the dollars take you,” he said. “And they take you to commercial development and high-end residential.”
Supply-and-demand principles mean little to those who work for too little to afford a home, he said.
“They are people living in their parents’ basements, sleeping on sofas, crowding into small apartments or living in substandard homes,” Taylor said of the growing workforce. “We’re doing the best we can to deal with the problem, but it’s so big.”
Staff writer Joey Bunch can be reached at 303-954-1174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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