Rent-free housing: Denver real estate firm donates apartments to 10 early-career teachers

An apartment building
Ten Denver classroom teachers will live rent-free at the new Skyline at Highlands apartment building starting in August. (Image courtesy of Grand Peaks)

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Ten early-career Denver classroom teachers will get free rent for a year in a new upscale apartment building in the northwest part of the city — a novel, if incremental, approach to the problem of rising housing costs making it difficult for teachers to live close to where they work.

Real estate investment firm Grand Peaks, whose founders attended Denver Public Schools, are donating 10 apartments in the 533-unit Skyline at Highlands development in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. The teachers will be able to live there rent-free from August through next July.

Sara Hazel, the president and CEO of the Denver Public Schools Foundation, said the foundation chose the 10 teachers in a random drawing from among about 215 who applied. Only classroom teachers with zero to three years of experience were eligible.

“I got to have my Oprah moment sending emails to these 10 winners and sharing the wonderful news,” Hazel said. “The response we’ve gotten — the quotes are, ‘This is life changing for my family.’ ‘You have no idea how much this means to me.’”

Marc Swerdlow, president of Grand Peaks, said the company’s founders, the Simpson family, wanted to do something for Denver teachers after reading news about pay disparities and the struggle to find affordable housing. The average apartment rent in the gentrifying city was $1,875 a month in the first quarter of this year, the Denver Post reported.

“This property is not an affordable-housing project, but something we could do to provide affordable housing to teachers seemed so easy, so natural,” Swerdlow said.

The hope is that increasing access to affordable housing will incentivize early-career teachers to stay in Denver and in the teaching profession, Hazel said.

“Affordable housing is one of the barriers our Denver teachers are facing — and Denver teachers living in the Denver community is good for Denver and good for our students,” she said. “We hope other companies look at this and are like, ‘Wow, how do we replicate this?’”

Five of the apartments are studios that would otherwise rent for between $1,725 and $1,900 a month. The other five are one-bedrooms that would rent for between $2,300 and $2,450 a month. The salary for first-year Denver teachers this past year was $54,141.

DPS leaders have floated the idea of providing teacher housing several times in recent years, but no projects have come to fruition. In 2018, the district scrapped the idea of converting a then-empty elementary school into rental apartments for educators after neighbors pushed back. The district leased the building, the former Rosedale Elementary, to the Archdiocese of Denver instead. It now houses Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School.

Melanie Asmar is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Colorado. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.


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