RADIANCE BLOG

Category: Denver Metro

Communities Seek Creative Solutions to the Country’s Housing Affordability Crisis

While working on a recent project assessing the housing market for the City of Fort Collins, we were struck by how communities across the state and the country were pursuing diverse strategies to the current housing affordability crisis. The fourth quarter of 2018 saw national home affordability drop to a 10-year low. Residents in our hometown of Denver are all too familiar with this dynamic. A recent report identified the city as hosting the most competitive housing market in the nation. Members of the country’s middle class are increasingly viewing home ownership as unfeasible. The vast majority of Americans find themselves in markets where home prices are rising faster than wages. It should not be surprising that renting is more affordable than owning in 59% of the nation’s counties. That number jumps to 93% of the country’s most populated areas (those with more than 1 million people).

Photo by Breno Assis on Unsplash

Nonetheless, the rental market is not much more forgiving. Nationwide, median rent has increased by 11% over the last five years. Half of all renters find themselves spending more than 30% of their income on rent and one quarter of renters spend more than 50% of their income on rent. While the housing market has demonstrated an impressive recovery from the great recession, construction has been focused on the high and low ends of the market. Meanwhile, those in the middle are becoming accustomed to tight markets with few options.

The breadth and depth of the affordability crisis has brought creative responses from communities across the country. Denver has attempted to address affordability with the creation of the Affordable Housing Revolving Loan Fund. The initial $10 million effort to support the development and creation of multifamily rentals for low income individuals that has since been expanded. In a similar effort, Portland Oregon’s Inclusionary Housing Zoning Code Project requires that all new development projects above 20 units have housing available to individuals of different income levels.

Many believe the solution to affordability lies in zoning. Last month, the Minneapolis City Council took a bold step and became the first major metro area in the country to eliminate single-family zoning. With plenty of resistance from home owners in these areas, Minneapolis is on the path to significantly increasing housing supply, reducing travel times, and even potentially rectifying a history of racial segregation. Regardless of potential larger downstream effects, adding triplexes and apartment buildings to these neighborhoods is likely to mitigate high rents and housing costs by allowing more choice in the market and providing many with the ability to downsize while remaining close to desired amenities.

Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

A less drastic, but more widely pursued, strategy has been the expansion of “mother-in-law apartments” or “granny flats”. These units, formally called accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are separate entry add-ons to single-family home properties averaging around 850 square feet.  ADUs offer a potential respite from high costs for both owners and renters. The former can get help with their mortgage and the latter can find a smaller housing option near work, public transit, or other desired amenities. Owners can also rent these units on short-term sites like Airbnb or VRBO between long-term renters or if they desire greater flexibility. While zoning laws have traditionally been a barrier to these kinds of rental options, that is starting to change. Los Angeles has set a goal of having 10,000 new ADU units by 2021 and increased the number of issued permits from 142 in 2016 to 2,000 in 2017. In Utah, proposed legislation SB34 hopes to allow for more ADU apartments and to encourage high-density housing near transit corridors. The crisis has even spurred some innovative private sector efforts toward affordability. Google, Facebook, and Apple have all made headlines by investing tens of millions of dollars into housing for their employees. Similarly, Microsoft just announced $500 million to support affordable housing in the Seattle area. This project includes around half of that sum to be put toward below-market-rate loans so that developers can target construction in the surrounding area. In addition to this direct attempt to shape affordability, Microsoft has also been active in lobbying nearby mayors to consider changing zoning laws to waive fees and allow for greater density, especially around public transit. While none of these efforts are going to be a panacea, we need to collect as much data as possible to evaluate if and how these programs mitigate the rising costs of housing. Any undertaking to solve this problem on a local level needs to start with a systematic assessment of what has worked elsewhere.


How the (now ended) Government Shutdown is Affecting Colorado Communities

Beginning on December 22, 2018, parts of the federal government were shut down due to insufficient funding. After 35 days, the longest government shutdown in United States history came to an end on the afternoon of January 25, 2019. Although the shutdown has now ended, the effects of it will continue to reverberate in Colorado.

One agency affected by the shutdown was the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park system, including Colorado’s own Rocky Mountain National Park. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, “on an average day in January, 425,000 park visitors spend $20 million in nearby communities.” Rocky Mountain National Park technically remained open during the shutdown. However, without federal workers to maintain the park, trashcans cans were deluged with trash and roads remained unplowed, creating hazardous conditions for visitors. In communities near Rocky Mountain National Park, such as Estes Park, business owners noted they experienced a decrease in sales and business in general as tourists and locals alike were unable to safely fully experience the national park. While the winter season may not be the most lucrative time of year, the decrease in revenue will undoubtedly leave some business owners with a financial burden.

Quinn Nietfeld via unsplash.com

The Department of Agriculture was also affected by the government shutdown. This department oversees the U.S. Forest Service, who maintains around 65% of the forestlands in Colorado. Oftentimes the winter season gives Forest Service agents the opportunity to safely burn debris and brush that fuel summer wildfires. In the midst of the shutdown, Forest Service agents were unable to complete this work, raising questions about the potential environmental effects the state may experience in the warming months.

Colorado is not a stranger to the negative impacts of a federal government shutdown. In Fall 2013, the government was shutdown for 17 days. Unfortunately, that time period coincided with recovery efforts in Colorado following massive damaging flooding in several communities. Through the shutdown, emergency aid funds were unavailable, leaving communities to take charge of the emergency response and recovery themselves.

In addition to the environmental impact, the shutdown also resulted in approximately 800,000 federal employees nationwide to work without pay. In Colorado, around 2,500 furloughed federal employees filed for unemployment benefits to help them get by while they were not receiving a paycheck. National Congressional leaders, as well as Colorado legislators, have promised federal workers they will receive backpay wages lost during the shutdown. However, federal contractor employees have not been guaranteed the same assurances, leaving many in a dire financial situation.

It is important to note that this is not a full accounting of all of the known immediate impacts of the shutdown either. For a state steeped in a pioneering and resilient spirit, we know our communities will recover in the end. It remains to be seen in totality how the 35-day government shutdown will leave lasting impacts on our state. However, one lesson we can learn from this shutdown is the need to be proactive instead of reactive. In communities that are vulnerable to the immediate and long-lasting effects of government shutdowns, it is crucial for local governments to engage in robust conversations about the challenges their residents are vulnerable to and that they are currently facing. This could be achieved through a needs assessment or through facilitated community input sessions. In addition to enabling communities to better prepare for the future, these approaches also create an environment where every community member matters and their experiences are valued. This shutdown has ended, but it seems almost inevitable that another one will come along sometime in the future. 


The issues facing our communities

Though we at Corona serve clients of all shapes and sizes, we particularly love helping local governments and nonprofits to improve the lives of people in the communities in which we live, work, and play.  This quarter, we will be focusing on some of the issues that local communities are facing this year. While the specific topics may shift as the quarter goes on, you can likely expect to hear from us about topics such as:

  • How the impacts of government shutdown might linger long after the shutdown ends
  • The challenges with providing housing for an ever-changing population
  • Trends in population growth and where we expect things to go in the future
  • The rapidly shifting landscape of public education and the impacts that Governor Polis might have in Colorado

Stay tuned this quarter for discussions on many other topics.  We hope to shed some light on not only what some of these challenges are, but also how some communities can get ahead of these trends to positively impact their communities, so we hope you will enjoy the conversation!


DU’s Keystone Strategic Plan leads to action

 

The 20th century model of delivering a liberal and creative arts education is inadequate to the task of developing graduates who can think broadly and critically in and out of their chosen fields.

—From the Keystone Strategic Plan 2018-2025

 

We are thrilled to celebrate the creation of the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Denver.

The creation of the College is a direct result of their strategic planning process. The exciting Keystone Strategic Plan commits the college to nothing less than the transformation of the liberal and creative arts education in alignment with the University’s transformation under DU IMPACT 2025.

 

What role will the social sciences, arts, and humanities play in a world that increasingly operates through artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and big data? A very important one. The careers and lives of tomorrow will be defined by distinctly human qualities such as ethical judgment, creativity, adaptability, agility, and storytelling.

—From the Keystone Strategic Plan 2018-2025

 

“This plan represents the best of our strategy work at Corona. We are thrilled with the resulting plan and look forward to the momentum and positive changes it creates for the students, staff, faculty, and alumni of the college,” said Karla Raines.

Read the full press release here. See the video that DU produced about the plan below.


GoodBusiness – The State of Corporate Philanthropy in Colorado

We were very excited to work with B:CIVIC, the Denver Chamber, DaVita, TIAA and the University of Denver to collect data about how businesses in Colorado are engaging with and giving to their communities. It was great to see that businesses of all sizes across Colorado are engaging in corporate philanthropy, especially at the local level. It was also interesting to see that in addition to cash donations, many businesses are offering support for their employees to donate time and money.

The report can be found here.


Mirror, mirror on the wall. Do Denver residents see themselves in arts, cultural and creative organizations?

At our I2020 presentation last week, we had a lot of great discussion about the data. One topic we discussed was representation in arts, culture and creativity. While a large majority of Denver residents in our survey believed that people like them participate in arts, culture and creativity, African American and especially Latinx residents were more likely to doubt that people like them participated. Even a small difference can be important, though, since people might use representation to infer other things about an organization and its events, such as whether an event is welcoming, whether they have the right background knowledge for an event, and whether an organization is relevant to them. Also, representation is important because it’s something that organizations have some control over, especially representation within their boards and staff.

Quantitative research is really useful for understanding the “what” of a topic. To get to the “why” though, you really need qualitative research that gives people space to explain things in their own words. We hope the results from this I2020 survey inspire Denver organizations to start digging into the “why”.

To view the presentation, click here (PDF). To learn more about Imagine 2020, including additional research, click here.

 


Imagine 2020 Data Snack

Today, Kate Darwent, PhD, spoke to an audience of over 100 arts leaders about the need to increase opportunities for Denver residents, especially African American and Latinx residents, who are hungry to participate more in arts, cultural and creative activities. The city conducted a one-of-a-kind statistically valid survey of its residents in 2017 to learn what they value about the arts, what motivates them to engage, and the barriers they face. Interestingly, residents with a strong desire to participate more face a complex web of barriers including: lack of opportunities in their immediate neighborhood, less satisfaction with the amount of information they receive, and more uncertainty about whether people like them participate in arts, culture and creativity.

The 2017 survey was a mid-point check on IMAGINE 2020: Denver’s Cultural Plan.


If you are traveling to watch the eclipse, be prepared

Solar Eclipse. The moon moving in front of the sun. Illustration

As a bit of a space geek (don’t even get me started on my love of SpaceX), I’ve been planning for this weekend for a long time.  I bought my eclipse sunglasses and started looking into lodging over a year ago, so you can imagine how excited I am for this event.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), it seems I’m not the only one who will be traveling north to watch the total solar eclipse.  (Though you can see the sun 92% obscured in Denver, it won’t be anything like the experience of totality.)  This has CDOT issuing all sorts of warnings about traffic over the weekend.  I was curious about how much of a doomsday prediction these warnings were, so I conducted a quick Google Survey to find out.

Though these surveys aren’t near as robust or scientific as the surveys we at Corona do for our clients, they are a great way to get a quick feel for how the public feels about an issue.  In this case, I simply asked 125 Colorado residents if they were planning to travel north and, if so, where they planned to travel to.  The results?

Again, these are very rough numbers, but with 20% of those surveyed saying they are planning to travel to see the eclipse (out of 5.5 million Coloradans), that could mean that as many as 1.1 million Coloradans will be on the highway on Monday.  CDOT’s estimate of 600 thousand traveling to Wyoming doesn’t seem far off from the 550 million estimate this quick survey would indicate.

So what to do?  Here are my recommendations:

  • Go anyway! Seriously, this won’t happen within easy driving distance of Colorado for another 30 years, and everyone I’ve heard speak about the experience says it’s completely surreal and unlike anything else you will experience.
  • Plan for safety. If you have somehow been living under a rock and missed all of the safety warnings about needing eclipse glasses, here’s another one.  Don’t look at the sun (except during totality if you travel north) without using eclipse glasses.    If you don’t already have them, you can try finding them at local libraries or hardware stores.  And if you can’t find them, check out community events where you could borrow from someone.  The process of the eclipse will take a total of almost 3 hours, so it shouldn’t be a problem to trade glasses here and there.  And if you still can’t make that work, there’s always a pinhole camera.
  • Plan for a good location. Many small towns in the path of totality are hosting events to watch the eclipse.  That’s a much better option than planning to just stop at the side of the road somewhere.
  • Plan for the worst-case traffic scenario. Though my hope is that everyone will be spread out enough that traffic won’t be as bad as CDOT fears, it’s a possibility that they’re entirely correct.  Get gas early so that you don’t have to wait at overcrowded gas stations.  Plan a variety of routes to get to and from your destination.  Take food and water in the car so that you don’t have to swarm the handful of restaurants in the area that aren’t equipped to handle this kind of volume.
  • Have fun! Try and relax, take your time when traveling, and enjoy the experience for what it is. Even if it takes way longer than you expect to get home on Monday, this may be the only time in your life that you get to experience something like this.

I’ll be out of the office on Monday, and I hope that many of you will be as well.  Enjoy the experience, and cross your fingers for clear skies!


State of Our Cities and Towns – 2017

For many years, Corona has partnered with the Colorado Municipal League to conduct the research that is the foundation of their annual State of Our Cities and Towns report. CML produced the following short video, specifically for municipal officials, about the importance of investing in quality of life:

Learn more, view the full report, and watch additional videos on the State of Our Cities website.


Predictable Unknowns

Have you ever needed to know what the future will look like?

To create great strategic plans, our clients need to understand what their operating environment will look like in five, ten, or thirty years.  They want to know how the population, jobs, markets, homes, and infrastructure are expected to change. We help these clients by providing reliable projections, often through analysis of preexisting data.  Although we have no crystal ball that tells us exactly what the future holds, we can point clients in the right direction.  Here are a few ways we look at trends and projections to help solve our client’s problems.

Patterns from the Past:

We frequently commence research projects by reviewing the current population profile and looking for patterns from the past that show how we got here.  A common way we do this is by mining demographic data from the U.S. Census. We access tons of demographic estimates across a wide variety of geographies, such as zip codes, census tracts, towns, cities, counties, metro areas…you get the idea.  The amount of demographic information available is amazing.  While examining demographics is a cost-effective way to start to understand an area or population, there are critical limitation to demographics.  Data are a year or two years old by the time they are available to the public. More importantly, there is a problem assuming the future will represent the past. Demographics can get us started, but when we want to peer into the future, we move to other sources.

Forecasting the Future

Several data sources project key variables such as population, jobs, age profiles, homes, and transportation.  A good source for population projections in Colorado is the State Demography Office.  From this website, we can align previously collected population data with future projections to provide a nice continuation from past, to current, to future population trends.  Further, we can break apart the population trend with age profiles that show changes by generation.  We can create such analyses at the state or county levels or any region comprised of counties.  For example, below is the population of the Denver Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which is comprised of ten counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Gilpin, Jefferson, and Park).  You can see the rate of growth in Denver Metro is projected to steadily slow, although remain positive, from 2015 to 2050.

Sometimes our clients are more interested in understanding the future of job growth, including how many jobs are expected, what type of jobs, and where they will be located.  We use a few different sources to answer these questions.  If we are working in Colorado, we pull down job forecasts by county or region.  For example, here is the forecast for total jobs and job growth rate for Larimer County, Colorado.

Other times, our clients would like more detail than total jobs.  We pull occupation forecast data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.  This website provides current and projected occupations by various geographies including counties and metro areas.  For example, a law school marketing department might be interested in projections of the number of lawyers working in various areas in Colorado.  The following table shows that the growth rate of lawyers is expected to be slightly higher in Denver-Aurora Metropolitan Area than in Boulder or Colorado Springs.

These are just a few examples of how we have helped our clients look at the past as well as understand what the future might look like. Of course, many clients have questions that are not so easily answered by secondary data that is already available.  In these cases, we build our own models to measure and predict all sorts of estimates, such as demand for child care, business relocation, and commuting patterns.

If you need to understand what the future might bring to your organization, give us a call and we will see how Corona can help solve your problem.