Dan Horan: The Many Faces of Jeffco’s Affordable Housing Crisis

The scarcity of affordable housing in Jefferson County affects a wide range of people in a variety of situations. Who are they? People who work service jobs, college students, retirees, people with disabilities, people who have left homelessness behind, people making Colorado or Denver minimum wage, and people who work in certain professions, like teaching, or are at earlier points in their careers. This blog series gives insight into how a range of individuals are experiencing Jeffco’s affordable housing crisis.

“It’s very quiet and it’s a close community. People look out for each other, even though it’s low-key.

Dan Horan has seen what the market has to offer older Coloradans who are relying on limited resources to pay for housing in Jeffco and the broader metro area.

It was pretty bleak.

At 69 years old, he had lived in two other “senior villages,” as he described them, before finding a subsidized complex in Jeffco that is quiet, has community gardens where people work together, caring neighbors, and plenty of space where he can ride his bike and explore.

“This is the third senior village I’ve been into,” he said. “I didn’t really know all my rights.”

Horan relies mostly on Social Security to cover housing costs, which leaves him with few options. Other places, which were more expensive, were dark, and felt like warehouses for older people, he said. 

The Bell Policy Center has done extensive research on the financial challenges that older Coloradans face and found that even before the housing crisis became more acute in the last couple of years, older Coloradans named housing costs as their biggest expense. A 2023 Colorado Health Foundation poll found that 40 percent of Coloradans older than 50 were worried about losing their homes.

The housing crunch has several dimensions for older Coloradans. As Horan experienced, it’s tougher to find an affordable place to live that is “nice,” an admittedly a subjective definition. In addition, that same tight housing market means it doesn’t always make financial sense for older Coloradans to downsize and thereby put the homes in which they raised families onto the market.

Colorado State Demographer Elizabeth Garner said in a recent interview that the state’s population trends are on a collision course with its housing shortage. Colorado has one of the fastest growth rates in the nation among those 65 and older. 

“This is really the first couple of decades we have really had a lot of older adults,” Garner told Colorado Public Radio in an interview published in November, 2023. “So that will have an impact on the share of housing used for workers versus used for non-workers (retirees).”

All of that makes for a tighter housing market in Colorado for everyone, and certainly for seniors who are looking for rentals. Horan has seen it first-hand. His situation has been complicated by his disability. 

Horan, who was a physical therapist and a window washer in his professional life, said that a 1993 head injury complicates his efforts to fill out paperwork or use computers. He needs friends or relatives to help him navigate those tasks. But it doesn’t slow him down physically, as he spends his days riding his bike or walking around Hidden Lake Homes, the Westminster senior living complex run by Foothills Regional Housing that he feels lucky to call home.

“It’s very quiet and it’s a close community,” he said. “People look out for each other, even though it’s low-key. People have dogs, so they’re up early doing stuff. The garden is a significant part of the community.”

His first impression when he saw the apartment that would become his home was joy, hope, and the beginning of a new life.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I saw so much light.”

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