As a school teacher, I think you can trust me when I tell you that educators do not have the luxury of arguing about how we stop growth in Colorado. They cannot afford it and neither can many of the families we serve. In a state where population has increased decade over decade since 1910, “no growth” isn’t just a strategy that doesn’t accept reality, it is one that is fundamentally cruel.

The starting salary for a DPS teacher is $50,130, meaning educators can’t compete in Denver’s housing market. Our already low salaries are outpaced by rising housing costs, often by two or three times.

Denver Public Schools families are often impacted even more dramatically than the educators who teach their kids. For families of color, these challenges are often worse. Families are displaced from their communities as demand for housing grows and new housing is often constrained to just one type of high-cost option.

I see the impacts of the housing shortage where I teach in Northwest Denver. I see families that once lived blocks away, forced to move and now making 60-minute commutes to maintain the school community they’ve built for their families. I see colleagues forced to pay rent increases and move year after year in search of a place they can afford. I have seen my school lose enrollment, and thus funding, that reduces resources and increases the burden teachers must carry to deliver quality education. This is not a unique case; enrollment across the state of Colorado is dropping, threatening the stability of our education system.

Housing affordability issues keep people from living in the communities where they work and go to school, increasing the number of cars on our roads and the distances driven. This inevitably causes environmental degradation, poor air quality and contributes to climate change.

Colorado can solve these overlapping crises. We can expand housing options for all and build homes that are financially feasible as well as environmentally sustainable.

The problems are clear: restrictive zoning, sprawling urban design, wealthy NIMBYs and municipalities clinging to decades old policies that have failed to meet the housing demand. Growth caps in Boulder, Lakewood and Golden have only exacerbated the housing shortage and driven up costs. At present, Colorado has a 175,000 housing unit shortage

Right now, Denver only allows multi-family housing on 20 percent of its land due to single family zoning, leaving most of the city to be restricted to the most expensive, environmentally inefficient form of housing. For progress, zoning laws must be adapted to allow for denser communities and more multi-family housing. And this solution shouldn’t be limited to one or two communities. In many cases restrictive laws in one town, city or county simply cause the problems these laws create to spill over into surrounding areas.

Denver can see how denser multi-family housing is already helping. New developments in the West Colfax and Sun Valley neighborhoods are adding more than 1,500 new housing units to the area. Schools that were facing closure in the area are now projected to see enrollment increases, creating a sense of optimism that the schools will remain open and the learning communities can survive.


Let’s not be fooled by arguments that stopping all growth in Colorado is even possible, let alone a panacea. What does it even mean to stop growth in Colorado? That we close our borders? That we insist people stop having children?

Let’s not allow our leaders to cater to belligerent NIMBYs prioritizing their nostalgia of what Denver once was at the expense of what it can be. At a time when we must take urgent action to address the housing shortage, some are choosing to write opinion pieces arguing to preserve only buildings, to “stop growth” in Colorado, all while people continue to suffer.

Educators, the families we serve and working Coloradans statewide need stable, affordable and climate-smart housing. We understand that accepting the reality of growth, developing smart housing for our families and making progress on climate change are not and cannot be mutually exclusive.

We have solutions to the housing shortage and affordability crisis. Colorado can exist, can grow in a way that works for working people and protects the beautiful state that brings people from across the globe to call the Centennial State home.

Alex Nelson, of Denver, is a Denver Public Schools teacher.

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to (Learn more about how to submit a column.)

Read more opinion. Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Alex Nelson, of Denver, is a Denver Public Schools teacher.