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Boulder Is Drowning in Empty Apartments

Too many high-end developments, not enough renters who can afford them. 

Downtown Boulder (Photo by Paul Sableman)

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While nearby Denver can’t seem to construct housing fast enough, Boulder, Colorado, is grappling with a glut of rental units — even as rents continue to rise.

Upwards of 1,000 apartments and rental rooms are empty right now, the Daily Camera reports. The city’s vacancy sits at 7.9 percent, a 10-year high. But rents are still ticking upward, albeit with less momentum than they’ve had over the past few years.

From the paper:

The picture is much the same across the region. From 2011-2016, 56 percent of all new housing units in Boulder County were multi-family, the projects more likely to be rented than owned. And active development in the two biggest cities, Boulder and Longmont, is even more skewed: For every single-family unit under construction or in the permitting process, there are three planned multi-family dwellings.

“We cringe every time we see a new complex approved,” Gary Epperson, who works for a realty company managing rentals in Longmont, told the Daily Camera.

High-end development can be partially blamed for the imbalance. Average rent in the city of Boulder was $1,714 at the beginning of this year — only $6 a month cheaper than the $1,720 average from 2015, when vacancy rates began to trend upward. Chris Salviati of Apartment List told the paper that vacancy rates and rents are less closely tied than in the past because of luxury development around the country. The large numbers of “high-priced units result in overall higher vacancy rates but do little to lower rents,” the Daily Camera reports.

Much of the development underway in the city falls into one of two camps, either luxury or subsidized. The city of Boulder has made strides in addressing its affordability crisis in the subsidized category. As Next City has reported, City Council has resolutely supported linkage fees (fees on new development to support affordable housing) even as cities like Los Angeles fight over whether and how to implement them.

But according to the Daily Camera, renters in the middle, who don’t qualify for subsidized housing and can’t afford luxury apartments, are still falling victim to rising rents.

Google is currently building a sprawling campus in the city and some investors believe that the tech giant will help increase demand. Around 60,000 people commute into Boulder every day— a number that could increase in the coming years — and some of those workers may eventually want to move closer to downtown. If they can afford it, that is.

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: affordable housingurban designboulder

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