Nearly half of Colorado renters report anxiety about losing housing, survey finds

Nearly half of Colorado renters surveyed in a recent statewide poll reported anxiety about losing their housing because of increasing rents, part of a broader finding that communities of color and tenants have more housing and economic anxiety than the rest of the state.

Coloradans identified the cost of living and housing affordability as their top two concerns this year, according to the annual poll commissioned by the Colorado Health Foundation, and more than 80% of respondents said both were serious problems. Black, Latino and Native Americans in the state were even more worried about housing and the cost of living in Colorado than their white peers, and the survey showed that a majority of middle and lower-income residents and renters were either struggling financially or were just keeping their heads above water.

It’s the fourth straight year that the foundation’s poll has identified housing as a leading concern of Coloradans, and the second straight year that housing and the cost of living have topped the list. The share of respondents who listed housing and affordability as their top worries is down slightly from last year, though both remain a more pressing concern than they were in 2020 or 2021.

There’s “just a real sense of urgency and anxiety among lower-income households about being able to retain their housing,” Drew Metz, one of the researchers who conducted the poll, said in a Tuesday morning briefing about the results.

Concerns about the state of government and politics ranked third on respondents’ list of concerns, with homelessness and public safety rounding out the top five. The state of American politics has remained a top-five concern for Coloradans since the survey was first conducted in 2020, though it’s fallen as a priority worry as more acute economic anxieties take hold.

The survey contacted more than 2,600 Coloradans in April and early May, with a margin of error of just over 2%.

Overall, the results paint a picture of a Colorado, particularly its renters and communities of color, concerned about affordability and the housing crisis, despite the low unemployment rate, reduced inflation and the state’s emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty percent of respondents said they felt worse off now than they did a year ago — a drop from 2022’s 43%, but still double the proportion who said they were better off now than before. Many reported financial struggles and food instability, and the costs of living and housing were a near-universal concern across all income levels.

The survey — the health foundation’s fourth since 2020 — comes as state officials weigh a legislative session that produced new laws intended to help ease the housing crisis but fell short of the sweeping proposals backed by Gov. Jared Polis and progressive lawmakers. Meanwhile, eviction filings in Denver and across the state have skyrocketed this year as pandemic-era aid runs dry, and recent research shows that rent increases in metro Denver have outstripped income gains at a higher rate than in any major American city since 2009.

Polis and his legislative allies, whose supply-side plan to reform local zoning laws fell apart in May, have restarted those talks with an eye toward 2024. As researchers described finding increasing concern about homelessness in Colorado, Denver’s new mayor, Mike Johnston, announced a homelessness emergency in the city Tuesday. House Democrats, who passed a slew of pro-tenant bills this past year, are planning a more coordinated approach to housing policy in 2024 to ensure a unified front after disagreements with the state Senate sank more sweeping reforms.

A majority of respondents to the survey said that effective solutions to the housing situation include the state intervening in property tax increases for low- and fixed-income homeowners; slowing rent increases; changing zoning laws to build housing near work and transportation hubs; and requiring developers to build more affordable units. Democrats and renters were more likely to believe that those policies would be somewhat or very effective, compared to Republicans and homeowners, respectively.

As for the broader cost of living issues, respondents also identified increasing tax credits and supportive program enrollment for low-income residents; raising taxes on those making more than $500,000 a year; and instituting government investments to help the economy as effective solutions.

Researchers found that 40% of respondents felt they are in an overall worse position financially now than they were 12 months ago, and 35% were somewhat or very worried about affording food. A higher proportion of Coloradans of color reported food anxiety than their white peers: Thirty-five percent of Native American respondents and 22% of Black respondents said they’d skipped a meal in the past year because they couldn’t afford food, compared to 13% of white Coloradans.

Simultaneously, though, fewer respondents reported anxieties about being unemployed compared to previous years. Researchers said Tuesday that the conflicting findings — more concern about food insecurity and financial stability versus less or stable anxiety about unemployment — indicate the gap between having a job and having a job that provides financial stability.

For instance, 85% of renters in the survey said they aspired to own a home. But 47% said they didn’t think they will ever be able to afford one in Colorado. The vast majority of respondents — regardless of income, race or region — also reported they were very or somewhat worried about their children’s ability to afford to live here in the future.

“People look at the macro economic figures and say, ‘Sure, the economy as a whole is doing well,’” Metz said. “‘But is it providing me and my family with the resources we need in exchange for the work we provide that makes us feel comfortable, that we can afford to live here and live the kind of life that we think anyone should be able to look forward to?’”

More than a quarter of respondents reported being at least somewhat worried about losing their homes because of rising costs. That’s down slightly from the same survey last year, but it’s higher than in 2021 or 2020. The anxiety is particularly acute among renters: While 19% of homeowners reported concerns about losing their homes because they couldn’t afford their mortgage, 49% of tenants reported the same concern about their rents.

Again researchers found a gap between the economic stability of white residents and Coloradans of color: Twenty-two percent of white respondents said they were worried about losing their housing because of costs, compared to 47% of Black respondents, 42% of Latino respondents and 49% of Native American respondents. That fear among Black survey participants shot up 16% since last year’s survey.

There was a “straight-line correlation” between a person’s income and their anxiety about maintaining their housing, Metz said. Thirty percent said they’d had to work multiple jobs or pick up extra shifts to afford their rent or mortgage. That number rose to 50% among Native Americans, 45% among renters, 39% among Latinos and 38% among Black Coloradans.

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