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Colorado’s affordable housing crisis has spread from the mountains to the Front Range

From the mountains to the prairies, Colorado’s housing crisis is squeezing state residents in ways that make drastic choices an all-too-common part of their cost-of-living calculus.

Colorado faces a shortfall of 100,000 homes and apartments, the second worst deficit of any state after California, according to a study last year from Up for Growth. A homebuyer misery index from the Common Sense Institute found households in the state’s largest counties facing record-high levels of stress.

When The Denver Post put out a call for residents who wanted to talk about the burdens of their housing costs, dozens of people responded. Stories include those like that of Westminster resident Jodi Lovejoy, who despite being a therapist and middle-income earner, has decided to keep renting at age 56 and uncertain if she can retire in the community she has called home for so many years.

In Snowmass Village, property manager Matthew Owens was ready to move his young family out of state until he won a town housing lottery that allowed him to buy a subsidized condo for $650,000 instead of the market price of $4 million.

Extreme lack of affordability, long a problem in the mountains, has made its way into the Front Range, and so, too, have the solutions to address it.

Chief among them is a regulatory tool known as inclusionary zoning. It requires developers of market-rate residential properties to set aside a certain percentage of their units, usually 20%, as affordable.

Combined with other programs, inclusionary zoning has helped boost the supply of affordable homes. In places like Breckenridge and Aspen affordable units represent upward of 70% of all year-round residences. But that still isn’t enough. Local governments are building hundreds of units themselves.

Following legislation that cleared away concerns about inclusionary requirements being a form of rent control, Denver undertook the state’s largest inclusionary zoning experiment yet with its Expanding Housing Affordability Ordinance that took effect in 2022. Its impacts on the market — for good or bad — have yet to be fully realized.

In Westminster and many parts of Colorado, the debate remains centered on issues of density, resource allocation and whether the character of a community should change to accommodate young adults and lower-wage workers who are being priced out.

In three stories, The Denver Post looks at what communities in the mountains and along the Front Range are doing to address the lack of affordable housing, a crisis front and center in the minds of people ranging from retirees to young parents to Gov. Jared Polis.

Part 1: Boulder’s affordable housing approach was once a trailblazer. Now, Denver is catching up.

Part 2: When mountain towns couldn’t find affordable housing for workers, they started building homes themselves.

Part 3: Westminster wants more affordable housing options, but tradition gets in the way

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