Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and fluffy unicorns generally don't need anyone carrying water for them at the state Capitol; for everyone else, there are lobbyists. And for Colorado's landlords — an under-appreciated lot if ever there was one — there's Nancy Burke.
At a time when Denver and much of the rest of the Front Range are posting some of the highest rents in the interior U.S., the state's apartment owners have a seasoned pro in their corner.
For over a decade, Burke has been vice president of government and community affairs for the Colorado Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Metro Denver — giving landlords a voice at the Capitol and beyond.
She carries their standard high, defending them, for example, against the "e" word: "We’re not in the eviction business — we are in the business of providing housing and we will typically go to great lengths to help a tenant work out a challenging situation." And because landlords are central to a community's housing equation, she notes, they also have been going to great lengths to address the affordable-housing crunch.
She details those efforts and more — in this week's Q&A.
Colorado Politics: Destination metro areas — next-gen hipster havens like Seattle, Austin, Portland or, nowadays, the Denver area — inevitably experience surges in median home prices as well as rents. The increases have been dramatic along much of the Front Range. Just as inevitably, state and local governments come under pressure to do something as housing becomes less affordable for more and more people.
With Democrats newly in charge of both legislative chambers, a rent-control proposal is said to be in the works. That won't sit well with your association members. What problems do you foresee with a rent-control law? What has been the experience with rent control elsewhere in the country, most notably New York?
Nancy Burke: We should all be excited to live in such a vibrant, action-filled state. Colorado has much to offer, like hiking, biking and golf. The business community offers jobs from a multitude of industry sectors to keep our state a place to move to find employment. The people moving here need places to live, and we unfortunately have not kept up with the new and necessary demand. Developers are scrambling to build the much-needed and sought-after supply which will keep rents and housing costs reasonable.
Eight years ago, the story was quite different. Vacancy rates in buildings were high and housing providers struggled to pay the mortgage on their buildings, insurance and maintenance. After Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Act, people found it more difficult to obtain a 30-year mortgage or to buy a house. Many people sought renting as a viable option.
During that time, shifts in demographics were such that millions of college students were entering the workforce saddled with an average of $32,000 in student loan debt. Home ownership was worlds away, so they opted for the flexibility that renting provides.
Trends also included the senior market opting to move from the suburbs into the walkable maintenance-free communities. After all, many multifamily rental buildings offer a variety of amenities from swimming pools, work out facilities, common areas, lazy rivers, dog runs, bicycle repairs stations and community events such as yoga or cooking classes, all of which are included in the rent.
The American Dream of owning the white picket fence single family home has evolved into choices of flexibility and maintenance-free lifestyles. America was becoming the new “renter nation.”
Demand for apartments has never been higher. To keep rents at a reasonable level, we look to economics of supply and demand. The demand is high, so we must increase supply and we are. In fact, the latest studies show this year that rents have stabilized and even declined with discounts and concessions being offered. This is good news for the renter because the tide has turned in their favor.
So, when our state looks at addressing rent caps through the government, or pushing it off to local governments to handle, it is a response to market trends that have already progressed ahead of what is being addressed. Real estate markets are cyclical; they change.
Rent-control policies would only exacerbate addressing the continued need for more supply, which is not the answer for a healthy housing environment. If rent-control policies were to be implemented in Colorado, over time, we would see higher rents, less supply and deterioration in our rental-housing quality.
No renter wants higher rents in a lesser-maintained place. Rent control created the highest rents in the nation in New York City and San Francisco, which are double or more for the same size apartment.
- Vice president of government and community affairs for the Colorado Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, since 2008.
- Previously vice president of public policy and communications for the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.
- Government affairs manager for the Mountain West Credit Union Association, 1987 to 2007.
- Holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Tulsa.
CP: Last November’s voter backlash not only flipped the state Senate but also handed all other state offices to Democrats for the first time in a very long time. What other imminent policy challenges now face your members amid the rising fortunes of the historically less business-friendly party in Colorado?
Burke: Renters’ groups are pushing for more rights and some of the proposals they are pushing can have unintended consequences that ultimately harm renters. That’s why we created a help site so that people could better understand how housing works and what is available. Housing is a huge and complex industry, but we have aimed to help simplify the process for prospective renters by launching www.housing4colorado.org.
CP: As a veteran of the Capitol lobby, how do you run your ground game representing business stakeholders when Democrats hold all the cards?
Burke: We always have worked across the aisle to find reasonable solutions. Often, well-meaning — but far-reaching — proposals will not implement the intended vision, so negotiation, patience and education are key to finding solutions. Most often, in these situations, there are solutions that will address the systemic challenges that renters and housing providers face. For example, instead of rent control, we believe that there are alternative solutions that more directly address Colorado’s housing affordability crisis.
We are hopeful that the helpsite, housing4colorado.org, will be able to provide a better understanding for anyone who feels confused or overwhelmed by the housing market.
CP: Handicap our new Democratic governor as a friend or foe of business. Movement Republicans of course see Jared Polis as a liberal’s liberal, yet with an estimated net worth of $400 million, he is the richest Colorado governor in memory and one of the wealthier players in American politics. And he is by and large a self-made millionaire thanks to his entrepreneurial savvy. He knows his way in the business world and is said to embrace tenets of free-market economics. How much does the business community really have to fear?
Burke: We appreciate our governor’s understanding of business. We are the experts in housing and understand housing is chock full of numerous programs and complex policies, and we are here as a resource to help him and his team decipher those, in order to create workable policies to empower our communities for our residents.
CP: You are effectively the lobbyist in chief for Colorado’s landlords — whose industry doesn’t stir a lot of warm-and-fuzzy feelings. What's your elevator speech about what lawmakers, and the public in general, may not appreciate about landlords and the role they play?
Burke: We know that housing providers in our association are educated, follow fair housing laws, and strive to make living in their investments enjoyable. Colorado requires a wide array of all types of housing, from large apartment buildings to single-family homes and everything in between. For example, while many are frustrated by the housing attainability crisis, there are over 29,000 units in the Denver Metro area renting for $1,000 or less. We need housing providers to offer all different price points for all different kinds of needs, but the challenge often is helping renters find the best housing for their situation.
Our industry is deeply philanthropic and committed to our communities. Earlier this month, the Apartment Association of Metro Denver held a charity bowling tournament that raised over $34,000 for Family Homestead, a fantastic organization that helps homeless families overcome the crisis of homelessness and re-stabilizes families at an optimal functioning level. We proactively engage in these efforts on a frequent basis.
I’d like to dispel the notion that landlords want to evict to get higher rents. This is simply not true as it takes time and money to turn the apartment. Eviction is a last resort. We’re not in the eviction business — we are in the business of providing housing and we will typically go to great lengths to help a tenant work out a challenging situation.
CP: What kinds of policies do your members advocate at the state and local level to stimulate the creation of more affordable housing?
Burke: As new ideas and proposals are generated, I am often trying to think outside the box for new and unique programs that might be an answer to affordable housing, but we all know there is no silver bullet when it comes to attainability. Solving Colorado’s housing crisis must be a community approach across many industries. Today, across the nation, we are seeing unique and creative approaches taking place. We have done the same in Denver. Denver is doing it right.
CP: One of the things Denver seems to be doing right is the LIVE Denver program. In fact, you recently were recognized with an award from the National Apartment Association, in part for your work on LIVE Denver. The program has been lauded as a model for public-private partnerships in housing. What is LIVE Denver and what kind of promise does it hold for addressing the Front Range’s affordable housing shortage?
Burke: This one-of-a-kind program was born here in Denver, courtesy of our members, to attempt to solve some of the workforce housing needs by connecting vacant rental units with working families and individuals. The program allows qualifying renters to pay one-third of their income toward their rent, with foundations and employers contributing to a fund that provides the balance of the market-rate rent.
LIVE Denver provides transitional and integrated housing opportunities as well as financial literacy, budgeting and renter education. When a renter completes the program, they receive a “Head Start Fund,” which is equal to 5 percent of their rent over the two year period.