Population growth is generally hailed as a sign that the local economy is doing well; the city portrays a welcoming image to visitors and there are incentives beyond just job requirements to move to that city. But with a rise in population comes a corresponding rise in rent prices.
In the last 25 years, the population of Fort Collins has almost doubled, rising from about 89,000 residents in 1990 to about 160,000 residents in 2016. According to Colorado State University archives, about 20,000 total students were enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs in 1990 at CSU, a smaller school when compared to 2016’s now much higher figure of 32,000 students. Almost every year it seems the incoming class is larger than all previous freshman classes in the university’s history.
While it seems like things in Fort Collins are headed in a positive direction at the city level, this population boom has brought back an age-old enemy of college students to the area around campus: a lack of affordable apartments close to classes.
High rents and high rises
Bret Tingula, a communication studies major at CSU, lived at Lokal last year, but did not renew his lease, and neither did his two roommates. While they now living in different places, they all have a similar reason for leaving – next year’s rent is just too high.
“I realized I was going to be paying pretty much half the price (renting elsewhere),” said Neill Denman, an international studies major who looked for houses much further from campus as an alternative to renewing his lease at the complex.
Those who moved in at the start of the Fall 2015 semester pay around $675 a month at Lokal, not including the cost of an additional $90 per month for a parking space. This year, that cost has gone up to about $750 a month for a single bedroom – $1500 a month for a two bedroom apartment.
If that doesn’t seem like a high number, it should – the average rent in Fort Collins at the end of 2015 was nearly 400 dollars less.
The Colorado Department of Local Affairs conducts a vacancy and rent survey for each city in Colorado each quarter. According to the most recent report, taken earlier this year, the average rent for an apartment in Fort Collins is $1279.14. Just two years before, that cost was $281.11 cheaper at $998.03, and in 2010, the average rental price for apartments in the city was $837.15, accounting for everything from studios to people-packed town homes.
The average rent for the entire city increased three times by amounts coming to more than $50 each from 2010 to 2015, and decreased by amounts less than $50 each in 2012 and in 2014. This suggests a trend of rent increases outweighing less frequent decreases, both in frequency and in change.
Since 2010, the rent has increased in Fort Collins by an average of about 55 dollars per year .
When it comes to finding apartments close to campus, prices seem to shoot up even more each year the shorter the distance between CSU and you, according to 2016/17 apartment complex database provided by CSU Off-Campus Life. Of the 22 apartment complexes located closer than half a mile to campus in the fall semester 2016, 12 will have prices that exceed their own previous year’s rates by more than 100 dollars.
Growth leads to growth
Ross Cunniff, Fort Collins council member for District 2, which includes the CSU campus, said there is little the city council can do to control rent in the city, as the amount is set by the company who owns the complex.
“These are for-profit companies,” Cunniff said. “I know this from talking first hand to landlords and renters – the price is entirely based on how much they can make.”
In recent years, Cunniff said he has seen rents across the city increasing, but this issue is something he has seen happen and be resolved in other places across the U.S. and in Fort Collins’ past.
“The prime driver of the high cost of living in Fort Collins is the high growth rate,” Cunniff said, citing a statistic that put the city in the top 10 growing metro areas in the country. “It happens everywhere, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Hawaii – it’s the law of nature.”
One of the most expensive apartment complexes is The District, a complex just across the street from Moby Arena that starts at $775 a person, or $1,550 per two-bedroom apartment. Despite the loud parties that it is so well known for, some city officials look to the complex as an example of what the city could encourage to help mitigate the high cost of living in Fort Collins.
Gerry Horak, Fort Collins councilmember for District 6, said he thinks the best way to reduce rent increases in the city is to play the game of supply and demand, and to not get the city involved. His district’s jurisdiction includes the Campus West area, a popular area for off-campus living which is also home to The District.
“We don’t determine what projects come here,” said Councilmember Gerry Horak, District 6. “We can’t tell developers, ‘Oh, by the way, your rents have to be $900.’”
Horak is right – in Colorado, the government cannot control rate amounts to the dollar. Alternatives are limited, but one option available to the city is to encourage the development of more high rises and large apartment complexes immediately around the CSU campus to catch up to the influx of new population.
“What I have supported (to reduce rent increases) is denser housing around campus,” Horak said. “In providing that, it gives less demand of the neighborhoods. I believe over time, as more units are built, the supply will catch up with the demand.”
Horak said he would support redeveloping the housing area just north of the CSU campus into an area for more apartments like The District and Summit, which go taller rather than wider to accommodate large amounts of residents. This would allow more apartments to be developed in a smaller area, increasing accessibility to campus and overall supply.
Cunniff had a different take on how to adapt to the growth, a self-described more “market-driven” approach.
“I think the city should not be involved in trying to promote growth in Fort Collins,” Cunniff said. “In other words, we should be responsible and provide for the infrastructure needed for the population that is here, but we shouldn’t be advertising Fort Collins as a place to come, we shouldn’t be subsidizing businesses to come here, which should hopefully mellow out the growth rate.”
Editor’s note: The data in this story was gathered using the most recent available databases through CSU Off-Campus Life, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and general information about student enrollment was acquired through the Colorado State University archives.
For the gathering of rental rates, a version of the CSU Off-Campus Life 2016/17 apartment complex database was modified and manipulated, the version of which can be found below. For the sake of consistency, two-bedroom apartments, without remodels or paid extras, were used in the analysis of this database.
The quarterly Colorado Multi-Family Housing Vacancy & Rental Survey, the most recent report, was used to calculate average rates by market area and to analyse which two-bedroom apartments in the city were offering prices above the average.