Trick-or-treaters once flocked to Maria Solis’s childhood Northside home, but that hasn’t happened in the past few years.
Slot homes, condos and apartments have risen on the block since 2017, while the families who rented now demolished post-war brick houses and duplexes have been priced out. Those who owned have sold.
The quadplex where Solis lives sticks out. It’s reminiscent of the house in Pixar’s “Up,” where tall buildings have risen on all sides. Only there’s no hot-air balloon to whisk the renters away to a preferably cheaper place they wish they were.
Solis’ home is a quaint relic from a past that has largely been bulldozed. Trendy, contemporary structures overshadow the home where four families live. The renters are stuck in a canyon of white and blue walls. From wide open windows, newcomers to the neighborhood look down on one of North Denver’s few holdouts, which is currently listed as for sale for $1 million.
Solis misses her former neighbors she grew up with.
There was the old lady who lived to the west of the Solis home with two big Chow Chow dogs who would always get loose. She moved to Florida, and her home was razed. The new blocky units rose on her lot.
A couple lived at what Solis called the Apple House because they had apple and peach trees that neighbors picked. The husband contracted COVID-19 and passed away. The trees have been chopped down.
In recent years, “We don’t really see kids around this area,” Solis said — especially middle schoolers and older. It feels like a waste since the neighborhood is rich with things for kids and families to do: multiple schools, Girls, INC., Sloan’s Lake Park and even food banks.
The few ghouls and goblins that did knock on Solis’ door this Halloween were parents with toddlers and infants, part of new families Solis guesses won’t stick around the block for long.
Most of the newcomers she sees are singles and couples who work from home. They come outside when the electricity goes out to check if it’s just their property’s power or everybody’s.
The new neighbors don’t always engage with the oldtimers’ problems but often take note. Once, when Solis’ family was trying to push a car up the driveway, she saw one of the apartment dwellers gawking from behind curtains.
“If you’re gonna stare, at least help,” Solis thought then.
But relationships with neighbors are less fraught than they are in other parts of the North Side, where Solis said newcomers have explicitly told longtime residents to leave.
Occasionally, the new neighbors on Solis’ block invite her family to parties, and they go when they can. Their tomato garden, which they use to pinch pennies, is the envy of new neighbors without yards. The Solis family looks at the new buildings and the rooftop parties high above their lawn and wonders how anybody could afford those luxurious places.
“They say it’s always greener on the other side,” Solis said.
Pointing at the neighboring wall of new homes, Solis said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to move here at all.”
The prices are too high and the units wouldn’t meet her family’s needs.
“We look at the posters, and we’re like, ‘let’s see what this bad boy looks like,'” she recalled. “Okay, three stairs. It’s not accessible for older people. I don’t think older people would want this, because, you know, bad knees and their backs, and they might fall down the stairs — or babies might fall down the stairs.”
The 23-year-old Solis works at the Children’s Museum. She doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on rent. She walks wherever she goes, unless she rents a scooter — and inflation has made that a stretch. Right now, she’s trying to save for a scooter of her own.
“Back in the day, people were like, I used to have a house [when I was your age],” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I have a room with my parents.'”
Here’s how realtors advertised Solis’ family’s home:
“Location, Location, Location! 3131 W. 19th Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80204, is an excellent value-add investment or redevelopment opportunity. New construction row homes and condos surround this entire neighborhood, and this is an ideal property to collect rental income while waiting to develop for future use.”
Two of the renters pay $1,500 a month, one pays $1,100 and another pays $1,000. All are on month-to-month leases that could be easily terminated to make way for a new project under a new owner. Keller Williams notes “pro format rate” for the apartments is between $2,150 and $2,400.
Under a new landlord, those who stay may see a hike in rent.
When Solis’ family’s landlord warned that a sale was likely coming, they started searching for homes on the Northside.
Finding anything in their price range is proving tough.
“Everything cheap is in Aurora, and we’re like, ‘That’s so far away from Denver and from everything we know,'” Solis said.
Solis’ little brother wants to be around the same kids he grew up with, attending Lake Middle School and then North High School. The family knows business owners in the neighborhood, from the baker to the local newspaper, the Denver North Star, and that familiarity feels good.
“But we have known a lot of people who have moved away really far,” she added. They’ve moved to East Colfax Ave., Commerce City, Aurora and even out of state.
When the Solis family throws yard sales, she recalled, friends are shocked.
“Oh my god!” they said. “You guys are still here?”
But they may not be for long.