A recent RENTCafé study said Westminster is #3 in Colorado and #20 in the country for the number of new apartments built in a city in the last five years.
Though some might celebrate it, many in the community are concerned about excessive growth. Yet, city staff said the data isn’t that simple and that they don’t anticipate the same pace of growth in the future.
According to RENTCafé, 2,133 new apartments went up in Westminster since 2016. It fell not too far behind Longmont and Parker.
It’s not as simple as it looks, though, said advised Aric Otzelberger, operations and community preservation manager for Westminster. Lots of projects were in the pipeline then, he said. It’s not representative of the past — when there were specific moments there was even hastier development — and it’s not prophetic of the future. “There is no conspiracy to build a ton of apartments,” Otzelberger said.
In fact, the city is drafting a new comprehensive plan that will focus on different housing instead of apartments. A major emphasis will be senior housing, which is technically designated as multi-family housing, but isn’t a luxury apartment, for example, said Andrew Spurgin, a long-range planner for Westminster. Another future priority will be the “missing middle,” which are townhomes or other smaller format homes, Spurgin said. The “missing middle” is neither multi-family apartments nor single-family homes.
There won’t be as high a demand for apartments in the future, based on trends the city is watching, Spurgin said. “We want to ensure that we do have housing for our city as it grows and changes over time,” he added.
Spurgin and Otzelberger said that being wary about RENTCafé’s ranking is important. Apartment growth, after all, is a sensitive subject in town. Residents are very concerned about growth, particularly of apartments. The prospective 2,350 dwelling unit Uplands project in Shaw Heights remains extremely controversial.
In the city’s 2020 community survey of over 600-plus citizens, several people expressed dissatisfaction at apartment development. “Provide more open space. Stop the ridiculous amount of apartment development. Traffic is getting worse. You are destroying the appeal of living in a small community and turning us into Denver,” one anonymous respondent wrote.
“Stop all the building. Especially the apartment building. The roads and retail are always full of people and will only get worse. Westminster used to be a wonderful city but that is not true now,” another person said.
The city doesn’t deny that the growth of apartment units in town. They explained that the city is closing in on build-out capacity, while household sizes are shrinking. The most sensible solution, Spurgin said, is multi-family units.
Concerns over affordable housing
Regardless of how much future development there will or won’t be, community members and activists are concerned about the damage newly built apartments have already dealt. Rate rents are rising and space for affordable housing is shrinking.
The average rent in Westminster in December 2020 was $1,499, according to additional RENTCafé data. Nearby, the average rent in Thornton was $1,506 and in Northglenn, $1,346. “Average rental rates for metro Denver have risen over 75 percent between 2009 and 2020,” stated a report from James Real Estate Services, Inc. (JRES) about rental rates in the Denver metro area last year.
The JRES report continues, “It should be noted that these are not “same store” rental rates and include the addition of new properties, many of which have rental rates well above average market as a whole.” In other words, there are cheaper rental options coming up against expensive options.
All the while, it’s difficult for new affordable housing to be built, said Deyanira Zavala, executive director of Mile High Connects, a nonprofit that advocates for housing and transportation affordability in the metro area. Migration patterns of upper-middle-class people lends to higher demand for luxury apartments.
Furthermore, the type of affordable housing that gets built matters, Zavala said. A one-bedroom affordable housing unit won’t suffice for a large family, for example, she said.
All these factors result in shifting demographics, said Zavala, who lives in south Westminster, an area Mile High Connects specifically focuses some of its work on. “I wouldn’t say that apartment development is the only thing contributing to displacement and gentrification. But to the extent that it may not be providing completely affordable housing, that’s really the question that we would be looking at,” she said.
Zavala, and others, agree that it doesn’t mean that affordable housing doesn’t exist or that no one cares. Peter LiFari, executive director of Maiker Housing Partners, said cities in Adams County have worked hard to offer rebates and waivers Maiker to construct more affordable housing. Since 2017, 355 affordable apartment units went up in Westminster, said Jenni Grafton, economic policy and development manager for Westminster. Another 444 are currently under construction.
“Over the past five years, the city of Westminster made a commitment to expanding the options, locations, and number of affordable housing units,” Grafton said.
Despite significant progress, LiFari and Zavala both acknowledged that trends are powerful and that there isn’t enough affordable housing. Zavala said, “It’s one thing to build affordable housing, but it’s another thing to have policies and protections in place that ultimately allow folks to stay in place.”
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