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Mapping Denver: Transit Expansion Drives Higher Rents


The expansion of light rail has helped increase residential rental rates in neighborhoods on the rail network. That can push out the very residents who could most benefit from public transit. (map link)
If you rent in Denver near a light rail station, chances are your rent is climbing faster than the rest of the city.

Between 2009 and 2013, housing located near RTD's recently expanded light rail service saw rents grow substantially quicker than those located further out, adding another wrinkle to the city's housing challenges.


One of the primary guiding principles behind the RTD FasTracks program, approved by voters in 2004 and expected to continue laying down track through next year, was to encourage transit-oriented development -- denser infill development to promote alternative transportation modes and mitigate sprawl. 

Judging from Denver's rental market, FasTracks seems to be hitting its mark: between 2009 and 2013, the number of rental housing units in the city increased nearly 22 percent in tracts located within a half-mile of light rail stations, compared to 12.6 percent in tracts not near transit stations.

However, rent increases in neighborhoods with rich transit access are far outpacing rents throughout the rest of the city, potentially creating a paradox of affordability, where low- and moderate-income residents could be priced out of neighborhoods with good transit access due to their high demand.

Between 2009 and 2013, the median rent citywide grew from $795 to $921, a 15.8 percent rise (using American Community Survey estimates). During that same period, the median rent in census tracts located within a half-mile of light rail service jumped from $777 to $927, a 19 percent increase. Tracts outside this buffer zone rose from $807 to $917, or 13.7 percent, meaning rental prices near the light rail went from below the citywide average to above it, while all other tracts trended the opposite direction.

In one sense, this is fantastic news, as it highlights a growing demand for mobility options among Denverites. The region's investment in transit is paying off. In fact, of the top 10 fastest rising census tracts for median rent, seven are located within a half-mile of LRT stations. As illustrated in this map, much of the rent increase is concentrated around places like downtown, Uptown/City Park, and the Littleton-Mineral LRT corridor, which has seen a huge surge in the quantity of rental housing stock. Development intensity is increasing in transit-rich areas, and demand is following.

On the other side, of the 21 tracts where median rent decreased between 2009 and 2013, only four are near LRT lines, two of which are on the West rail line that opened in 2013. In these tracts in Villa Park, Sun Valley, and Five Points, rental stock is increasing while rents are falling.

Additionally, these tracts have seen an increase in households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, suggesting an increased concentration of renters who will be most squeezed by a tight rental market, but can also benefit most from reliable and affordable transit. By contrast, neighborhoods on the LRT system's periphery like Globeville, Chaffee Park, Virginia Village, Windsor and Montbello have lost significant amount of rental housing as median rents have fallen.


Setting aside the region's red-hot home sales market, recent trends in Denver rental market illustrate the balancing act of building a high-quality transit system that serves all residents. As the city and region continue to push for a more diverse transportation menu, demand for great urban amenities threatens to displace residents who need commuting options most.

Read more articles by Aaron Villere.

Aaron Villere is a freelance writer and urban planner specializing in multi-modal transportation, with expertise in demographic and spatial analysis.
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