Readers respond to the July Front Porch article, “Why isn’t Stapleton more diverse?”
Due to market forces, not everyone will be able to afford a home
By Jim Edwards
See below: The Green Book (GB) world does not exist anymore. It is an anachronism as is the “Housing and Diversity Committee.” (The name sounds like something out of an old USSR 5 year plan ala Dr. Zhivago.) The GB was written when the market was influenced by those who were of the opinion that everyone deserved a home—with no application of any standards of affordability. Lending requirements and the market changed when the housing bubble burst. You can lay blame where you want for that event, but the bottom line is that there were too many people who inhabited homes they could not afford. Unfortunately, ideas such as government driven diversity are slow to die—especially when there are votes to be purchased.
When one accounts for the current government lending requirements and market forces (yes, that dirty word called “profits”), not everyone is going to be able to afford a home or even a new rental. When you add in the performance of the economy over the past five plus years and the adverse effects of the socialistic policies pushed by our leader in the White House, the picture looks even more bleak for any real change in the near future (his word). Service jobs do not permit people to purchase homes.
- H&D Committee: Become relevant or disband. A change of name would be a good start.
- Stapleton not diverse enough, but you want to stay behind the nonexistent gates: Spend some of your own money—buy some homes or rental units and resell/lease them—or better yet, give them away. The builders of this community, who are not facing the same market that existed when the GB was written, should not have to bear the brunt of your leftist ideas on how you think the world should be which is simply building something with money that does not belong to you.
- For those of you who are upset, dismayed or whatever because the area is not more “diverse” and as a result requires your children to go to school with just white kids (an interviewee’s term in the original article, not mine; Can you imagine substituting any other color without being publicly flogged?): Sell out and return to where you were more comfortable, but make sure you sell in a diversified manner. The effect would be positive and two fold—fewer white people and more people of color. A “win-win” for the diversity team.
- Keep the government out of the Stapleton market as much as possible. Keep Stapleton moving, growing and thriving. (See proposed solution 1.)
Remember, we are all part of the market—just make sure when you espouse change it entails the spending of your own money rather than someone else’s.
We must concentrate our efforts and build on what we have started
By Kevin Marchman, chairman, SDC board
First, some history on the decision to move Stapleton to DIA. If the region was going to grow, the confines of Stapleton were already obsolete. Many will remember that when Denver had inclement weather, heavy airline volume, inadequate airside facilities, well, good luck in having a pleasant trip home. Stapleton became the object of national scorn and, yes, jokes.
After the airport moved, the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC) was created in 1995, to primarily negotiate and work with the eventual master developer, Forest City, for the sale and lease of developable properties at the former airport site, Stapleton.To date, the results of the collaboration of the SDC, Forest City and others have been admirable. That said, our work is not finished and lingering issues persist.
One of those issues is the diversity or lack thereof, of the existing population. The term diversity, particularly housing diversity, means different things to different folk. I wish to highlight what some of those things may mean.
Building a new community from an old airport site is a tremendous undertaking. A community is not just houses, but also businesses, infrastructure, schools, parks, shopping, roadways, event spaces and the like. A community is a place to raise your kids, enjoy your neighbors, feel safe, a place in which you can acknowledge your presence and others, all others. This is what diversity means.
Diversity also means having a range of ages, folk with different social economic backgrounds, multi-ethnic origins, gender preferences and yes, the prickly issue of racial composition. It is my observation that you cannot have much of this if the elements of a community lack home affordability.
During my SDC tenure, I’ve heard every story and concern possible; that Stapleton is a gated community, that some people don’t like shopping with other people, Forest City is only going to build what is profitable (read: no affordable housing), Stapleton parents don’t want their kids schooling with kids from other neighborhoods and worse. Enough of that.
What we will do, must do, is to concentrate our efforts in a meaningful, demonstrable, and positive direction and continue to build on what we have started. Some ideas: I have urged, and SDC board agrees, that we become even more engaged in every aspect of our growing community. Also SDC has begun working with SDC staff to more widely promote Stapleton to a broader population. This would include our aging parents and friends who are looking for more ranch-style homes (first -floor bedrooms). There are others. We need to listen and take advantage of every feature of Stapleton to further strengthen our community.
Our elected officials, Mayor Hancock, Denver Council President Herndon, DPS President Haynes, among others have worked tirelessly over a very long period to guide the old Stapleton site to the neighborhood it is and will become.
The SDC is committed to working with anyone or group interested in making Stapleton the best new community in the country.
August 10, 2014
Respectfully both Jim Edwards and Kevin Marchman miss the point on the lack of diversity at Stapleton. As a homeowner in the sandwich neighborhoods between Lowry and Stapleton, I have watched this movie play out over the last 20 years.
The issue is whether or not the city or quasi government organizations have a moral duty to ensure that the housing that goes into these infill locations is affordable to the average worker of the community. Both Lowry and Stapleton had land costs near zero. KB Homes is representative of the builders at both Lowry and Stapleton. They are able to build a brand new single family home of reasonable size (1600-2100 sq ft) for a list price of 252,000 to 260,000 with adequate profit margin in the exurb of Arvada. This is comparable to the adjacent neighborhoods near Stapleton and Lowry. There is a dearth of housing that size and price within the city limits of Denver. There are no single family housing units at that size and price point in either Stapleton or Lowry.
Does highest and best use of the land always mean that it must be developed for the highest price the market will bear? While walkability and the new urbanism are fine characteristics, what gets sacrificed in this model is a sense of neighborhood when all of your home space becomes vertical with two rooms per floor and you’ve traded any personal outdoor space for areas not large enough to fit a patio table and chairs. The government may have gotten the highest land prices possible from the builders but by making the land acquisition costs far outstrip what the same builder pays for sites in the exurbs, then in tradeoff to make it economical for the builder they must build homes at $ 500 to 900K thus economically squeezing out those of average means and limiting diversity in both Stapleton and Lowry. This “one off” gain for the government in getting the highest and best use price sacrifices the decade’s long diversity that comes from increasing the inventory of affordable homes within the city boundaries. If the builders make an acceptable profit in the exurbs building a new home for $ 252-260K, then it should be perfectly acceptable to say that government has a role to play to bring that affordability into the city by restraint of the highest and best use.
The average home size in America today is 2300 sq ft. and housing units under 1100 sq ft are too tight for modern living. The real sweet spot for living space is between 1480 and 1800 sq ft. that can suit so many different population groups at different stages of their lives.
I will buy what I can afford. But the builders have to build that affordable product and make it available for me to buy in these locations. The doctrine of highest and best use has made it nearly impossible for builders to put their same product from the exurbs into these infill settings. The affordability and land costs has pushed families, working people, older citizens further and further out into the exurbs to get the balance between size and price. My dismay is that Lowry and Stapleton have accepted without question the density propositions of the new urbanism philosophy and made these highest and best use tradeoffs at the expense of the average working person when it was wholly unnecessary to do.
Smaller sized patio or townhomes (1550-1950 sq ft) that are affordable would allow aging in place to occur. Why are these units being priced at over $ 425K at Boulevard One? They should be priced closer to $ 250K. I recall the very first development of Lowry where the home prices were so affordable that you had to be chosen in a lottery to have the right to make an offer on those homes but there was no income qualification and no limit to appreciation. Those first home may not have had every conceivable upgrade, but if you remodeled over time you could improve what mattered the most to you.
Why not do that today? If you are concerned about immediate flipping by the owners, limit the gains and appreciation that can be realized for the first 10 years of ownership. Affordable housing is not necessarily setting up income qualified set asides within the development. What if you make too much money for an income qualified property today, but you are within 10 years of retirement when your income will fall dramatically. Shouldn’t income qualified properties be an either/or circumstance where if you are within 10 years of Social Security retirement you can buy into a property like that to be able to remodel while you can afford it? Can our agencies modify those rules?
The builders say that they are building what the market is asking for. I don’t recall being solicited for types of properties I wanted to see in either Lowry or Stapleton or their associated price points. Builders are squeezing every last profit dollar out of their development space so they will fit 12 townhomes in a block and build vertically when 10 units would have meant more livable interior spaces and a friendlier external neighborhood but might have sacrificed a bit of profit. I understand there is great difficulty in managing infill sites like Lowry and Stapleton.
But, if builders like KB Home can build a new single family home in an exurb like Arvada for approximately 260K with the builder having an acceptable profit margin, then should we not be asking questions why similar styled homes placed on the infill sites are being priced at a 50 to 75% premium over that exurb cost? There is a public purpose to equalizing those development costs so that housing prices can be affordable and remain equally as profitable to builders like KB Home. Our quasi governance committees and elected representatives need to push back and ask questions.
Mr. Edwards feels that building affordability means taking or using money that does not belong to you. In response, I submit that when we allow highest and best use to artificially push out common sense and affordability, then we have allowed a sugar coated pretext of greed to justify pricing the average worker from being able to buy an average home in Lowry or Stapleton.