When Amanda Troutman got approved for a loan to buy a new home in a still under-construction neighborhood of Green Valley Ranch, the Denver Public Schools teacher didn’t tell her three daughters right away.
“My initial reaction was actually just fear,” the single mom said. “It was almost like someone said here is this great Christmas present, but it could be taken away at any time.”
It took a few weeks to sink in that she could be a homeowner in Denver. Now, Troutman and her daughters are not only looking forward to moving into their new home this coming spring, they’re thinking about a roommate.
“We get to have a dog,” Troutman said. “We’re so excited to have a dog.”
Troutman is among buyers moving into Oakwood Homes’ newest product, its “American Dream” homes. The seven floor plans range in size from 987 square feet in two stories to 1,701 square feet in three stories. They have between one and three baths, and attached one- or two-car garages. Most importantly of all –to people like Troutman and many others — the prices start at $220,000 and top out in the $260,000s, less than half the price of the average new home being built in Denver today.
“We’ve always dedicated ourselves to not only great value but also to the public good,” Oakwood Homes chairman and CEO Pat Hamill said Monday at an unveiling event for the company’s first nook of American Dream homes on east 54th Avenue just west of Tower Road. “These first 24 (homes) were prototypes. We have another 150 on the way.”
Aside from prices that are just about unheard of Denver, the homes have another feature: they carry a 5-percent discount for qualified buyers who are teachers, emergency first responders or military members. Of the 14 homes already sold in Oakwood’s first village, 10 have been sold to teachers (including Troutman), and three to people in the armed services.
Amy Schwartz, executive director of Oakwood’s BuildStrong Education foundation, noted that Colorado ranks last in the country (according to at least one study) when it comes to teacher pay versus cost of living. That has an impact on the state’s ability to attract and retain teachers, and poor teacher retention rates are linked to lower student performance. The average cost of a new home in Denver is now north of $540,000, according to Schwartz.
Troutman, who teaches language arts and is helping launch the library program at Highline Academy’s northeast campus in Green Valley Ranch, was considering leaving her job because of the cost of local housing. Since moving from Texas in 2013, her rent has gone up every year. Carrying $40,000 in student debt tied to her master’s degree, she was running out of options. That is until her school’s executive director pointed her to Oakwood’s new neighborhood.
A Metrostudy analysis of new home starts in the Denver area in the third quarter of this year found homes priced below $300,000 were by far the least common new product, falling well below 250 new starts if looked at on an annual rate. Meanwhile homes over $500,000 were the most popular style, with an annual rate nearing 2,000 starts.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, in comments delivered Monday, said workforce housing is the city’s most glaring need. Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare said he is interested in bringing American Dream homes to his city.
When asked why so few builders are zeroing in on a portion of the market with intense need, Oakwood vice president of product development Don Carpenter said simply it’s hard to do. Oakwood, which will build 1,500 homes in Colorado and Utah this year, trimmed land costs by bunching the homes in village-style cul-de-sacs, increasing the number per acre. It also worked with its partners in the construction trades on ways to bring down material costs.
“We had to design something that would give us better value,” he said. “It’s a collaboration with a lot of people.”
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