How Denver wants to use the luxury rental glut to house teachers and other lower income residents

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Looking north from the top floor of the newly-completed Country Club Towers, Aug. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) country club towers; residential real estate; apartment building; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; denver architectural foundation; cityscape; skyline;

Looking north from the top floor of the newly-completed Country Club Towers, Aug. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Most of the new apartments built with the last two years are luxury units charging more than $1,300 a month, Erik Soliván said at the Colorado Educator Housing Summit on Thursday. But the twist is vacancy levels are at nearly 10 percent at that highest level, he said.

Soliván, the executive director of Denver's Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere, wants to create a whole new marketplace out of those vacant units. It's the Lower Income Voucher Equity pilot program, and it could provide affordable homes to 400 households by the end of the year. 

You may remember this as the two-year pilot program that Chipotle wants to join. Comcast, Colorado Health Foundation and others have expressed interest too. Partnerships with employers are one way that the program will be funded, and in the case of Chipotle, such partnerships come with the opportunity to get their employees into the new housing.

But as a pilot program with private-public partnerships baked in, and only 400 units to start, how are teachers supposed make their way into the mix? Soliván says that the city is aiming for "reasonable caps" from its private employers and considers the limited two-year pilot to be a way to assess and adjust the employer mix.

Before any of this happens though, the vacant apartments still have to be identified. Soliván says the city's request for qualification should be online by "mid-ish" September.

For building owners, the appeal for participating is immediate occupancy, not just curing societal ills. And that's something that will be true even when vacancy rates come back down. Yes, the program happens to be timed well to the current rental market, but there will always be vacancies, Soliván said.

"Production is always going to exceed demand at those higher levels, particularly in Denver," he said. "As [vacancy rates] swing down lower, hopefully our design of this in partnership, creates a continued interest of 'Oh well that's immediate occupancy over there and I know that it's continued inclusivity of workforce families in Denver.'"

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