Rationalizing $500,000 “entry-level” home prices and more Denver Design Week takeaways

“It was weird to us, when we’re discussing entry-level homes and saying half a million dollars, but they sold.”

Construction by Union Station. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

development; residential real estate; denver; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty
Construction by Union Station. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) development; residential real estate; denver; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty
Construction by Union Station. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Wave a magic wand, will your perfect affordable housing policy into existence, and it still wouldn’t work without buy-in from private developers — that’s the nature of living in a free-market society like ours.

At Denver Design Week Monday, developers and real estate professionals discussed what it means to build affordable housing. Read on to hear how $500,000 becomes an entry-level home price and more about “attainable” housing.

How $500,000 becomes an entry-level home: 

“We were originally designing this building [at 42nd and Pecos] and we wanted to come in at a lower price point. We were really pushing for it but there were a lot of factors that forced us to have to up our prices to low $500s and it was weird to us, when we’re discussing entry-level homes and saying half a million dollars, but they sold.

“Some of the factors that pushed up the price for example, Xcel, as we were getting ready to break ground suddenly told us that we needed to go underground with our power lines which was a $140,000 hit that no one expected.”

— Jeff Plous, Denver real estate broker

What attainable housing actually means:

“We’re pushing affordability in alternative fashions, addressing what we believe to be a cultural mindset shift in how we live, where the place that you call home is highly adaptable and getting smaller. We’re spending money on our lives outside the home.”

— Nate Jenkins, Oz Architecture associate

“We have units that are 500 square feet at a $300,000 price point so that ‘attainable’ word is something we use quite a bit. It’s smaller, but much more efficient and heavily amenitized so we feel that it might be 500 or 600 square feet, but it has a private park and a parking facility and it’s great at not taking up space and you’re in a neighborhood that has every service you could possibly want.”

— Jonathan Alpert, managing partner at Westfield Company

“We’ve been trying to use the word ‘attainable’ and not ‘affordable’ since ‘affordable’ generally means deed-restricted homes. We’re trying to say that these homes aren’t deed-restricted, most people are able to buy them in a market that has been so frustratingly lacking in inventory.”

— Jeff Plous, Denver real estate broker

The change that could have the biggest impact on affordable housing:

“Denver doesn’t do a great job of supporting neighborhoods on a micro-level. They talk a lot about the great neighborhoods that are here, but they don’t have services to support neighborhoods and the problems they’re having on a micro-level. Other great cities do, I’ve shared with them some plans that I think we could emulate to allow neighborhoods to take a little bit of control of their destiny. Denver is focused on neighborhood planning, but there’s nothing on the back end that puts any teeth to the plan.”

— Jamie Licko, president of the RiNo Arts District

“One huge thing going on in the city is that it’s impossible to get a permit. It takes forever in this market, and in any market, timing is everything. … It is pretty antiquated and pretty challenging to move in the city and that pertains to affordability.”

— Jonathan Alpert, managing partner at Westfield Company

Stray observation:

I should have been counting how many times the word “gritty” was used to describe RiNo. It had to be at least five or six times, which is too many times. Once your neighborhood contains options to buy an $8 avocado toast or $12 cocktails, or a $115 IV drip, it is no longer gritty. Gritty is not a synonym for post-industrial, and I would love to hear developers and neighborhood advocates alike to find a better way to describe the area.