Rent up, no vacancy: Young folks just want to move downtown

As a young, single and freshly transplanted Coloradan, I’m no stranger to the woes of apartment hunting — as well as the dread of paying subsequent rent and utility bills.

The Apartment Association of Southern Colorado released earlier this month its third-quarter “Colorado Springs Metro Area Apartment Vacancy and Rent Study,” which noted that our rents are higher than ever and that our vacancy rates are sitting at a 12-year low, meaning that such woes are on the rise.

“During the third quarter this year, the average apartment rent in the Colorado Springs metro area rose to an all-time high for the second quarter in a row while the apartment vacancy rate remained tied at the lowest rate reported since the third quarter of 2001,” according to the study.

I had just moved 1,000 miles and was crashing at my twin brother’s apartment in the Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver when I was hired this past June by the Business Journal. The weeks following were consumed by the hunt, but after more than a dozen walk-throughs and what seemed like hundreds of phone inquiries, the hunting season was over.

One thing that made the search difficult was the lack of affordable units available in appealing areas.

My brother and I moved into a two-bedroom spot in an old Westside Victorian costing $800 a month — a fairly good deal, but not without the aches and pains of living in an aging dig. However, though it’s far from my dream apartment, certain concessions were made in order to have housing before Day One of work.

One thing that made the search difficult was the lack of affordable units available in appealing areas of the Springs, and the reasons behind that are made clear by this study.

The highlights show average rental rates in the metro area rose for the 15th straight quarter — up nearly 6 percent from $787 this time last year to $830 — with the most significant increases seen in the central area (including downtown) and “far northeast” (including the Powers Boulevard and Academy Boulevard corridors).

The metro area also experienced a drop in vacancy rates from last year’s 6.1 percent to 5.4 percent, although no drop was seen between quarters. The lowest rate of 3.8 percent was seen in the southwest region, which includes West Colorado Avenue south to the border. The highest rate of more than 10 percent existed in the Security/Widefield/Fountain region of the metro market.

This bodes both well and ill for Colorado Springs.

The good, which Colorado Division of Housing economist Ryan McMaken pointed out in a press release presenting the study, is that this is an indicator of boosted employment and a strengthened housing market (at least for multi-family units).

The Pikes Peak United Way’s 2013 Quality of Life Indicators report displays the bad: Data that suggest building permits for multi-family housing were down by half to 315 in 2012 compared to the previous year.

“Last year was one of the best years in Colorado Springs in a long time, but things have slowed a little this year,” Kevin McKenna, vice president of apartment brokerage firm ARA, said in the release. “But there are still few signs of any overbuilding at this point, so rents and occupancy will likely continue to be strong from the owners’ perspective, for the time being.”

These trends, which are great for property owners, may very well intensify as the metro area continues to experience population growth, unless more developers think toward the future and build what Colorado Springs needs: more multi-family housing in the places where people want to be.

Rather than “sprawling away from the urban core,” as the QLI report puts it, the city and its developers should look to those central and southwest regions for smart, efficient land use that will ease demand and foster livability.

Because, let’s face it, this city’s young workers (27 percent of the population was between 27 and 44 in 2012, according to the QLI) aren’t as interested in traditional home ownership and suburban living as their parents have been.

We need stable, affordable housing in areas attractive to us young folks.

We want relaxation and excitement; we want the mountains and the malls; and most of all we want a lively, urban environment in which to spend our days.

One Response to Rent up, no vacancy: Young folks just want to move downtown

  1. BS. There is little shortage of apartments for rent in the CS region and there is a reason for that. Apartment complexes offer very little in the way of quality of life. Stacking people one on top of the other has little value. Also, getting into one of these tiger cages requires you to pass background, credit and drug tests with a score that pleases some remote corporate female overlord. Ultimately the problem with apartment complexes are the cells they provide are poorly made, waste energy, waste resources and when they start to age and decay five years after they are built the slum lords will not maintain them. The mystery is how they think they can charge so much for them.

    Steven Shepard
    November 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm