When Auggie Bernal got a job as a Longmont police officer last year, he never seriously considered selling his Fort Collins home and moving south.
“I never did, and the reason was because of the prices,” said Bernal, 35. “I’d like to live near (work) but the way the prices are in Boulder County, it was really never a possibility.”
Bernal’s experience is similar to that of many Front Range residents, and the decisions they’re making about where they live are altering the face of Boulder County’s population and forcing public officials to focus new energy on services for the elderly.
Next year, for the first time since state demographers have been keeping track, the median age of Boulder County residents will be older than the state’s.
Today, Boulder County’s median age is 35.1 years, while the state average is 35.14 years. Next year, the median age of Boulder County’s residents is projected to hit 35.4 years, compared to the state level of 35.34.
While the difference is literally weeks, it represents a reversal in a trend that’s held true since demographers started keeping track of such data in the 1950s.
Experts who study population changes attribute the shift to higher home prices in Boulder County caused by residents who are still so wowed by the area they haven’t moved on. While people are still wowed by the region, experts say, they can’t get in.
Boulder County has a reputation as a haven for college students due to the presence of the University of Colorado’s flagship campus in Boulder. But demographers don’t include every student in their estimates, since most are only temporary residents. And that means the youthful perception of Boulder County is at odds — and growing increasingly so — with reality.
“The young adults who were part of the (Boulder County) growth in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s are still there. But the ’90s had a lot of migrants come to the state, and they are typically young adults, and they have gone to other counties,” said Jim Westkott, a state demographer. “Those who got into Boulder County in time are enjoying it and doing their best to stay there.”
Westkott said high housing prices play a major role in Boulder County’s aging population because people who are older, generally, can afford to pay more for a home. Young families have found that identical homes in Boulder and Weld counties are often dramatically different in price.
“Those who came in are staying. They aren’t leaving and are holding on to what they have,” Westkott said. “Those people can afford to win in the housing market there better than others.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median home value in Boulder County is $241,900, while in Weld County the median value is $140,000. The state median for a house is $166,600, while the national median value is $119,000.
And while plenty of people are willing to pay a premium to live in Boulder County, younger couples just starting out find themselves crossing the county line to find cheaper homes.
Dave Schwind of Prudential LTM Realtors in Longmont said kids who grow up in Longmont find they can’t afford to live in the city without continuing aid from their parents.
“We don’t have the so-called affordable housing. It’s very difficult for young couples in their early 20s to buy a house in Longmont when the starting price is $250,000, $300,000,” said Schwind, an area Realtor since 1986. “People, once they get into a community, like to stay. And (Boulder County) is going to continue to get older because the younger people are being forced out because they can’t afford to buy.”
The change in the county’s age means government programs aimed primarily at the young, such as recreation centers, must be reconsidered in light of an aging population.
County aging services experts call the trend the “silver tsunami” and predict that the number of Boulder County residents older than 60 will nearly triple over the next 30 years, even as the county’s overall population remains relatively stable.
Other counties in Colorado are building thousands of single-family homes, which attract younger residents and keep the average age down.
In Longmont, by contrast, relatively more housing for senior citizens is being built because the city has limited construction of homes that might attract more students to overcrowded schools.
All those older people are going to demand services from government to stay active, healthy and independent, forcing public officials to consider whether it’s better to build an ice rink than, say, a second senior center.
In Longmont, they’ve already begun adding recreation programs aimed at active 50-something residents who officials have taken to calling “zoomers.”
Schwind said he’s seen a trend of economically exiled families returning to Longmont after leaving to buy an inexpensive starter home in Weld County. And he said those people, once back here, don’t want to leave.
“A lot of people are moving back into Longmont when they get older,” he said. “They found that all of their activities were in Longmont.”
Trevor Hughes can be reached
at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail