Magazine Feature / People

Colorado listens when Von Stroh makes house call

When DU management Professor Gordon Von Stroh began his quarterly Denver rental housing survey in 1981, a standard apartment near campus was in a stark, box-like building with few amenities. Bedrooms were small, parking was on the street and few complexes had landscaping, let alone swimming pools or laundry facilities.

Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in south central Denver averaged $315 per month.

Now in his 25th year of surveying Denver’s rental market, Von Stroh says those kinds of apartment buildings are rare. Instead, multi-family units now rival single-family housing. Common features include covered parking, park-like landscaping and a long list of amenities, including walk-in closets, nine-foot ceilings, marble countertops and concierge services.

A one-bedroom now goes for about $701.

“Expectations are higher these days, and so are the rents,” says Von Stroh, who directs the management master’s degree program at DU’s Daniels College of Business. “It’s no longer your grandparents’ apartment.”

Von Stroh began crunching numbers in the early 1980s by feeding punch cards into a room-sized computer mainframe. Today, he manages survey data with a desktop PC and ships disks crammed with rental data to government and business clients. Newspapers across the state download the data for free from the Internet for stories about local markets.

Ten years ago, at the request of the governor’s office, Von Stroh expanded his survey to include all of Colorado. Local and state government officials study the data to guide affordable housing programs, and the federal government has begun using Von Stroh’s rental numbers to set “reasonable rent” thresholds for Section 8 housing. State transportation officials use the data to project travel demands, and developers draw on vacancy rate data to plan new housing projects.

“It is certainly one of the best reports we offer the public and private sectors,” says Ryan McMaken, community relations manager for the Colorado Division of Housing, which helps fund the research.

Von Stroh has also headed up regional and statewide groups on affordable housing and urban development. He served on Gov. Bill Owens’ Blue Ribbon Panel on Housing and consulted with numerous public and private housing organizations.

Since starting his survey, Von Stroh has witnessed an evolution in rental housing and the boom and bust cycles of the Denver economy. With the energy bust of the 1980s, landlords began luring renters with what were then amenities—dishwashers, microwave ovens and such. In the 1990s, Von Stroh says, rents began to climb and few incentives were needed. But since the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the ensuing economic downturn, apartment owners have begun handing out cash incentives or even lowering rental rates.

Meanwhile, the 40-unit, mom-and-pop apartment building has given way to sprawling multi-family complexes with a range of housing styles and luxury amenities. And, Von Stroh says, there has been a “blurring” between multi- and single-family housing resulting in a competitive, customer-driven housing market. Indeed, as the mobility, financial means and expectations of housing consumers have risen, some are actually choosing to rent rather than buy, he notes.

“It’s become a quality of life issue,” Von Stroh says. “Our standards have risen.”

This article originally appeared in The Source, July/August 2006.

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