A Model to Keep Homes Near Transit Affordable

One of the Urban Land Conservancy's completed projects, the Evans Station Lofts, created 50 apartments with rents between $380 and $850. Image: Urban Land Conservancy
One of the Urban Land Conservancy's completed projects, the Evans Station Lofts, created 50 apartments with rents between $380 and $850. Image: Urban Land Conservancy

The Hancock administration’s redevelopment of the National Western Center means massive change for an industrial corner of Elyria Swansea. The area around 48th and Race will gain an RTD station along the N-Line and a bunch of new development — including homes, businesses, and a health center — and lose much of the warehouses and surface parking lots that define it today.

People want the convenience of living near transit. But housing is in short supply in Denver, and that applies to the areas near transit stations, where people are willing to pay a premium. Will the new transit-oriented development be affordable to Denverites on the lower half of the income spectrum? About half of them will be, thanks to the non-profit Urban Land Conservancy, which develops land explicitly to protect against displacement and gentrification, and “preserve community assets for future generations.”

ULC buys land and partners with developers to create new places when the time is ripe. In 2015, ULC bought the industrial site at 48th and Race for $5.5 million with help from the Calvert Foundation and a loan from the Denver Office of Economic Development. When the RTD station and 560 condos and rental homes come online, at least 51 percent of the new residential units have to be reserved for households making 80 percent or less of the area median income. Right now that means households making no more than $56,000 annually.

ULC awarded Zocalo the rights to develop 48th and Race, which will include market-rate homes that make the project profitable.

Rather than traditional subsidized housing that doesn’t remain affordable once deed restrictions or housing vouchers expire, ULC’s model builds long-term affordable housing stock. The model is not new, but neither is it mainstream, says Tony Pickett, ULC vice president of master site development.

“One of the biggest problems in Denver and any other major city is traditional affordable housing that’s been subsidized, it only lasts for a finite period, like 15 or 30 years, and then it expires,” Pickett said. “There’s more affordable housing that’s expiring than we can create new. So even when we’re creating new units, we’re still losing [affordable housing].”

If someone buys an affordable unit and later decides to sell, the next buyer also has to make 80 percent of less of the area median income, and there are limits on the sales price (ULC is still working on this formula). Even some in the nonprofit development cringe over this aspect, Pickett said, because home ownership can be a vehicle for wealth. But this model of home ownership can still be a stepping stone out of poverty, according to data from the Champlain Housing Trust, a similar development in Burlington, Vermont. Out of 340 shared equity home sales, 55 percent of the sellers went on to buy a market-rate home.

One development will not fix Denver’s housing shortage, but this model can make a difference. The 48th and Race site is one of many ULC transit-oriented development projects, including developments near Blake Street Station, Evans Station, and 40th and Colorado Station.

  • TakeFive

    This is sooo important and I was delighted to hear that ULC is partnering with Zocalo at their 48th and Race Streets site.

    It’s also worth noting that Megan Arellano had a nice piece at Denverite about Denver working-class homeowners having longer commutes that was linked to in “Today’s Headlines.” This points to the need for more and better transit which then enables more affordable housing near transit. This is also why I promote an Urban Signature LRT Line down Broadway and then along the Speer Blvd.- Leetsdale corridor. 🙂 Once you pass the Tony confines of Cherry Creek to SE of Colorado Blvd you find all manner of demographics and socioeconomic levels.

    • Grrizz

      I also read the articles about commutes, but It didn’t really strike me as groundbreaking. Hasn’t “Suburban Affordability vs. Urban Convenience” always been one of the big decisions that home buyers make? While some of the ‘working class’ homeowners were surely unable to afford urban places, I think many of them also wanted yards, big garages, bigger homes etc. than are available at this or any other TOD, and chose longer commutes so they could have the suburban lifestyle. Regardless of what this housing costs, it’s not gonna include a garage or yard.

      • TakeFive

        Very fair point although you may be conflating a couple of things depending on your definition of “working class” I suppose.

        It’s certainly true that more affordable housing is easier to find further out with and w/o nice garages and yards. My primary point was the need for more and better transit to serve those who would prefer commute than drive if there were better options for doing so.

  • JerryG

    I will also note that Medici Communities, who was ULC’s partner on the Evans Station Development, is one of their partners on their Blake Street Station development. So I would expect that development would be of similar high quality.

  • Susan De Vos

    Those lofts look pretty ugly. Who would want to live there? TOD’s can be attractive. Don’t drag them through mud.

    • TakeFive

      I have to disagree but not unusual for opinions to vary..

      Evans Station Lofts Recognized as Top New Affordable Housing
      By Christi Smith January 6, 2014
      “In a recent article by Gizmodo, Evans Station Lofts was highlighted as one of only seven affordable housing projects in the country that is making it’s city stronger. This is a pretty huge honor that follows up on the Mayor’s Design Award recently awarded to the project in 2013.”
      https://www.urbanlandc.org/blog/talking-denver/evans-lofts-top-affordable-housing/

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