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Anglos no longer majority in Denver

White population below 50 percent, but flight slowing

Rocky Mountain News | August 8, 2007
Lisa Ryckman

Denver's white population has slipped below 50 percent for the first time, making it the largest county in the nation to experience that change in the past year, census figures released today show.

But for State Demographer Elizabeth Garner, the big news is that 2006 marks the first time in 17 years that Denver has had more people moving in than moving out. And some residents who might have been inclined in the past to move out are choosing instead to move up.

"About seven years ago, the trend started turning around, but this year, we had a net 2,385 increase, the first time it's been positive in a while," Garner said.

The reason: new housing for families, empty-nesters and young professionals in places such as Stapleton, Lowry and Platte Valley, she said. "More people can stay."

From 2000 to 2006, 303 counties nationwide ? nearly one in 10 ? saw their white populations decrease below majority status. And while white flight to the suburbs might have been to blame in many areas, Denver wasn't among them. In fact, the latest figures show that Denver actually lost the smallest percentage of white residents of any of the metro-area counties.

The white population's slide into minority status was by the slimmest of margins ? 76 people. Denver had been inching toward that milestone for years, with Hispanics and Asians rapidly catching up to the white population. In fact, in 2004, the Census Bureau issued a report saying that the changeover had occurred, but once the figures were adjusted, it appeared that threshold had not yet been crossed.

Move-up buyers staying

A desire to avoid commuting has kept many people in the city who would rather pay more for housing than fight traffic, said Larry Kallenberger, executive director of Colorado Counties, Inc. But Joshua Spinner, a broker for RE/MAX City Horizons, said he is still seeing a lot of people with children leaving Denver for the suburbs.

"They anticipate getting into the suburbs for the schools, and the schools only," said Spinner, who specializes in selling homes in northwest Denver, City Park and other neighborhoods. "They all tell me they are going to miss their old neighborhoods and little coffee houses and things."

But a school was the main reason Chutaporn Charnsangavej, 32, and her husband, Sean Morris, 33, decided to stay in Denver. The couple toyed briefly with the idea of leaving their West Washington Park two-bedroom for Parker or Highlands Ranch but chose instead to move close to Slavens Elementary, a top-rated Denver public school, with the thought of sending their toddler there in a few years.

"We like Denver, we like not being too far from downtown and Cherry Creek," Charnsangavej said. "I work in the suburbs, and we were really interested in staying as close in town as possible."

Diverse developments

Move-up buyers are better able to afford Denver homes than people who are new to the area, one reason why Hispanics have been moving into Adams County at twice Denver's rate. Adams now has the metro area's largest Hispanic population at 35 percent.

"People feel as comfortable culturally in Adams County as they do in Denver," Kallenberger said. "The Hispanic population has been locating in Adams County for some time, because housing is cheaper."

Adams County has been growing increasingly diverse, Garner said, partly because it has been growing faster overall, with a population increase of more than 12,000 in the past year. And Arapahoe County is inching closer to having the highest percentage of black residents in the state, while the percentage of Denver's that is black has dropped.

"A lot of that is just because they've got the land," Garner said. "If you look at the development in Adams County and in Arapahoe County, they've done more affordable developments. The same with Weld County, and the whole Brighton area."

The diversity fostered by lower housing costs comes together in Green Valley Ranch near Denver International Airport, where developer Pat Hamill's Oakwood Homes has houses starting in the mid-$100s. Those prices, along with desirable schools and recreation opportunities, have drawn young families of all races.

"We consider it one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the entire city," said Kelly Leid, who heads Hamill's Foundation for Educational Excellence. "You can live in the city and county of Denver and have a little more of a suburban feel, but you still get the benefits of living in the city."

Kallenberger said that Denver is becoming a premier urban core area, with the kind of cultural amenities, sports events and cutting-edge developments that make city living attractive.

"Denver's doing a lot of things right," he said. "When I moved to Colorado in the mid 70s, Denver was always talked about as a cow town. I used to refer to it as 'Omaha by the Rockies,' because that's how people felt about it. But we're all grown up now."

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