COVER STORY Building with Cranes Denver skyline

Denver is booming and thriving, but many would say it's also reeling.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

Denver has a below average rental vacancy rate, at 5.2% for the latest fiscal quarter. The long-term average vacancy rate has been 6%.

A certain level of available units will always exist as people move in and out of rental homes, known as frictional vacancy. Among other renter-heavy cities, New York City's rate is 5.7%, while San Francisco's is 5.6%.

However, Denver's rate amounts to 19,452 units being empty, according to Westword.

By comparison, the number of people homeless on a given night in Denver is approximately 4,000.

"We do currently have a pilot partnership in place with the Denver Housing Authority that buys down rent on market rate apartments," said Britta Fisher, the executive director of Denver's Department of Housing Stability. The department, she added has a responsibility to "make the most sound investments" of taxpayer money.

There is a mismatch between the demand for rental units and the price points of the available supply.

“We do not have a housing crisis; we have an allocation challenge,” said Elena Wilken of Housing Colorado.

Newer apartments have higher vacancy rates than the overall housing stock of the city. Coincidentally, their rental prices are also higher: $2,087 compared to $1,582 citywide.

The elevated prices are necessary because of the cost of new construction — an average of $192 per square foot in 2017, according to a 2017 report from mortgage financing company Fannie Mae.

At the same time, the gap in the rental market exists between people of low incomes who need housing and the number of units available in their price range. 

"You can’t just build willy-nilly. What a lot of communities are starting to focus in on is their housing profile or portfolio,” Wilken said to Westword. “A more interesting question is, what do we need to build to meet the demands of the population?"

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