Congratulations! You just landed your dream entry-level urban planning job in your dream city of Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, you may go broke trying to find a rental apartment.

When I accepted my position in the planning department at Aurora Public Schools working in the suburbs of Denver, I began looking for a place to live. It’s a familiar situation for many young professionals who have just landed their first full-time job. Apartment criteria important to me were:

  • Close to work (in a suburb) and close to downtown;
  • Safe neighborhood;
  • Access to parks and open spaces; and
  • Walkability of the neighborhood to restaurants, grocery store, shopping, et cetera (I am a planner, after all).

My initial budget starting out was already more than double my rent while attending Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas (a beautiful college town with 50,000 full-time residents). Within thirty minutes of looking for apartments, my budget increased $200 per month. After driving out to Denver, looking at the neighborhoods within that price range per month, I finally settled on an architecturally significant and historic apartment in the Lowry area, an older New Urbanism development, for nearly three times what I was paying in my previous college-town rental.

Mixed-use and retail center in Lowry, Denver, Colorado

Mixed-use and retail center in Lowry, Denver, Colorado

The current median rent for a one-bedroom in Denver, of $1,000 per month, is historically high and is coupled with historically low vacancy rates. On top of that, millennials love Denver. In fact, right now it’s the number one destination for my generation. Denver is also one of the fastest growing cities in the country for all age groups. So simple rules of supply and demand says millennials have a problem:

  1. Personal finance experts suggest a person should spend no more than about 20% percent of their after-tax income on rent;
  2. Many recent graduates are out of work, underemployed, and under-paid relative to their historical counterparts;
  3. Demand for all housing in Denver is high;
  4. Rental rates in Denver are high;
  5. Rental unit vacancy rates in Denver are low.

I don’t know many recent grads that can pick up from where they went to school, pay for moving costs, and land in Denver with the ability to pay $900 to $1,000 for rent each month. And this only gains you access to living in even a decent neighborhood with the decent amenities a young professional might be looking for.

Newly-built in-fill apartment building in Denver, ColoradoNewly built in-fill apartment building in Denver, Colorado

Now I know that readers in Los Angeles and New York City are scoffing at this right now. But the reality is, Denver is much more expensive than most people expect when they move here.

Do you feel $1,000 per month is high rent in Denver? What rent controls would you suggest for the Denver area?

Credits: Images by Jonathan Knight. Data linked to sources.