Apr 22, 2022

Charles serves as CCLP's Income and Housing Policy Director using data and research to support our efforts to stand with diverse communities across Colorado in the fight against poverty. Staff page ›

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Colorado is losing low-cost rental housing

by | Apr 22, 2022

NEW: Read CCLP’s latest issue brief on low-cost rental housing here.

Colorado saw a 41.2 percent decline in the number of rental units with monthly rents under $600 between 2010 and 2019. While a monthly rent of $600 sounds low, this rent amount would be affordable to households earning up to $24,000 annually, assuming the household spent only 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Just under one in four (23.0 percent) renter households had incomes below this amount.

The loss of these low-cost units over the past decade means that low-income renters are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing in our state. To put this loss of housing another way, one in five rental units had monthly rents under $600 in 2010, adjusting for inflation. By 2019, this ratio shrunk to one in ten rental units.

One of the major factors exacerbating this trend is the fact that there have been very few new low-cost rental units built in Colorado since 2010. Just 5.9 percent of rental units built since 2010 had monthly rents under $600 in 2019. On the other hand, 66.1 percent of the units built since 2010 had monthly rents between $1,000 and $1,999.

In many parts of the state, the private market appears to be unable or unwilling to build new rental housing that rents for under $600 per month. This highlights the need to preserve low-cost rental housing in Colorado where it exists today. These units will be difficult to replace once lost, particularly in higher-cost housing markets, such as those along the Front Range.

Indeed, when we look at where Colorado has lost low-cost rental housing since 2010, we see that the Denver Metro region alone accounted for 60.0 percent of the loss in units with monthly rents below $600. If we include the counties that make up the Pikes Peak and North Front Range regions, the losses accounted for 89.3 percent of the net units lost between 2010 and 2019.

This does not mean that rural parts of the state did not lose low-cost rental housing. However, it has become increasingly more difficult for low-income households to find affordable rental housing in the urban Front Range. Just 8.3 percent of the rental units in these three regions had monthly rents under $600 in 2019, a lower share than that for the state as a whole.

Not all housing types were equally as likely to be low-cost rental units in 2019. 29.9 percent of such units in 2019 were found in multifamily buildings with 3 to 19 units, the most of any housing type in Colorado. Mobile homes play a significant role in our state’s stock of low-cost rental units. One in ten low-cost rental unit was a renter-occupied mobile home in 2019 and 39.4 percent of all renter-occupied mobile homes in Colorado had a monthly rent below $600. This was the greatest share among all housing types in the state. Mobile homes also were least likely to lose their status as low-cost rental housing between 2010 and 2019. Over that period, the number of low-cost rental mobile homes saw a net decline of 1.8 percent. By comparison, the number of low-cost rental units in multifamily buildings with 3 to 19 units declined by 34.1 percent.

Low-cost rental housing is found in every county of Colorado but is becoming increasingly scarce. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to make tremendous investments in Colorado’s affordable housing stock. While housing should be affordable to Coloradans at any income level, we strongly hope that ARPA funds will be prioritized to low-income Coloradans who do not have as many resources available to them to dedicate towards housing.

Almost one in four renter households can only affordably live in housing that rents for less than $600 a month, yet Colorado has neither preserved existing low-cost rental units nor produced new ones to replace those we have lost since 2010.

Other strategies are available to state legislators to preserve existing low-cost rental units, particularly mobile homes. HB22-1287 is one bill that would help manage and slow the loss of low-cost rental mobile homes in our state. This and more strategies should be on the table to help Coloradans, particularly low-income Coloradans, find and maintain affordable housing.

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Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.


Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.


Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

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Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.


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Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

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