When an accident left Randy Kilbourn in a wheelchair and unable to work he moved into a friend’s condo for a while. When that friend decided to sell his condo, Kilbourn needed to find a place to live — fast. He started doing research and within a few days had secured himself a spot at the Olin Hotel Apartments, a subsidized, income-restricted living facility for seniors and the disabled.
That was 10 years ago. Today, the wait list to get one of Capitol Hill apartments is about 300 people deep, according to the building’s manager.
It’s not just the Olin. Officials at Senior Housing Options, which runs Olin and other subsidized homes for older adults, say they’ve seen applications for all of their facilities increase in recent years. Waiting periods for subsidized apartments can now run as long as two years.
“The apartments where they were living saw the rents go up. A lot of people had their homes foreclosed on,” said Roberta Lott-Holmes, the marketing manager for Senior Housing Options. “Some people had fantastic jobs for the time, they had a 401k and everything else, but because of the increased cost in housing, they couldn’t afford it anymore.”
As Denver’s housing prices and cost of living have skyrocketed, more seniors are finding themselves unable to find an affordable place to live. The 107 units in the Olin Hotel Apartments have been one of the few places seniors could turn to.
At the turn of the last century, Olin was a luxury extended-stay hotel. Situated within view of the Capitol building on Logan Street, it mostly served politicians and others with state business. The hotel was so linked to the state’s seat of power that a rumor developed about an underground tunnel that directly linked the two buildings. DeShaun Beasley, the Olin’s property manager, says he’s never found it.
Senior Housing Options bought the Olin in the late 1970s and converted it to apartments. At the time, an oil boom had spurred companies to buy up small hotels along 17th Street, tear them down and put up office buildings. Many people had used those hotels as homes and the conversion displaced about 2,400 elderly people. The Olin helped.
“We wanted to make sure we provided a space for members of the community who couldn’t afford the housing boom,” said Beasley. “Social Security doesn’t pay a whole lot.”
Today Olin’s units are reserved for people who don’t have a whole lot of money. All residents have to make less than $39,000 to qualify and 34 units are reserved for people making $19,500 or less. Maintaining both the century-old building and its affordability has been challenging. Starting next year, the building will undergo a $30 million renovation. The Denver City Council approved a $1.5 million no-interest loan for the project on Monday.
The renovation will create five new units in the building and make room for a library, a fitness center and a computer lab. It’s a small bright spot in a dreary time for seniors on a fixed-income looking for a place to live.
“With the costs what they are and the housing stock what it is, it is very difficult,” said Kilbourn, who in addition to living in the Olin sits on the mayor’s Housing Advisory Committee and the board of directors for the Denver Metro Fair Housing Center. “It seems like most people just want to build luxury apartments.”