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Colorado Commercial Real Estate Ownership

Executive Summary

Property ownership is a proven way to create intergenerational wealth and may help slow displacement in communities. Commercial real estate ownership in particular can be a mechanism for small businesses and nonprofits to create community wealth and preserve community fabric. In geographies with expensive real estate markets, however, barriers like affordability and access to capital can prevent community-oriented groups from acquiring property.

To understand barriers specific to Colorado, a small group of community development and impact investing professionals designed a commercial real estate landscape scan. Staro Insights, a Colorado-based consulting firm focused on impact-first investment, conducted the scan and provided findings. Staro Insights held conversations with thirty individuals and groups throughout the state who represent small businesses, nonprofit organizations, funders, community development lenders, and real estate professionals.

Common Barriers


From the conversations, Staro Insights Identified five common barriers for real estate acquisition:

1. Real Estate Prices

Colorado is an expensive market which makes property ownership seem unachievable.

2. Access to Capital

Small businesses and nonprofits may not have access to
the funds needed for down payments and financing to acquire property.

3. Cost of Capital

Recent increases in interest rates make borrowing funds more expensive.

4. Time-Sensitive Needs

In a fast-paced market, small groups need to move quickly to compete with for-profit developers and speculators.

5. Technical Knowledge

Some small businesses, small nonprofits, and BIPOC-led nonprofits don’t have access to professionals with the legal and technical expertise needed to make informed decisions and complete transactions.

Resources for Ownership

The conversations also uncovered numerous resources for small businesses and nonprofits interested in acquiring commercial property. Through the conversations, Staro Insights found that many groups are not aware of some of the resources available. Helpful resources included:

  1. SBA Loans (Small Business Administration Loans)

  2. CDFI Funding (Community Development Financial Institutions Funding)

  3. CHFA Programs (Colorado Housing and Finance Authority Programs)

  4. DEDO Programs (Denver Economic Development and Opportunity Programs) and Economic Development Corporations in Other Communities

  5. Community Land Trusts

  6. Nonprofit organizations that support property ownership and acquisition such as Sharing Connexion and Center for Community Wealth Building

  7. Program-Related Investments from Philanthropic Partners

  8. Tax Credit and Bond Financing Options

In addition to lack of knowledge of these resources, interviews also uncovered nuanced and complicated obstacles specific to Colorado geographies. Mountain and resort communities face challenges with finding available property and an extremely limited supply of land for development.  Communities with quiet downtowns are creating residential units but need the business amenities to attract residents and tourists alike. Often the vacancy rates are not related to the costs, leaving main streets with a preponderance of vacant yet expensive properties. Communities fear that the only businesses that will be able to afford re-envisioned downtowns will be large, mall-like stores that will change the character of the town. On the other hand, some communities have been very successful at attracting interesting businesses that drive tourism. This success, though, has driven up costs to levels that may push out the businesses the community was trying to attract—making them a casualty of their own success.

Nonprofits and small businesses reported challenges related to working with property owners as well as institutions designed to support their efforts. BIPOC small business owners faced racial discrimination when attempting to acquire properties or work with brokers. Nonprofits were leery of organizations and institutions where they didn’t see themselves or community represented in leadership. Without the trust that partners are working with community goals in mind, nonprofits and community groups choose to forgo resources rather than working with untrusted partners.

Based on findings, Staro Insights identified the following actions funders and community development organizations can take to support and promote commercial real estate ownership for small businesses and nonprofits in Colorado.


1. Promoting Resources and Providing Technical Assistance

Identify ways to educate small businesses and nonprofits about existing resources for financing and technical assistance. Connect groups with technical assistance providers and real estate professionals so small businesses can better compete with developers. In communities with relative affordability, provide education and assistance for preserving affordability.

2. Creating New & Complementary Funding Resources

Identify ways to pair philanthropic resources with economic development funding to maximize impact. Create a diversified pool of available capital that nonprofits and small businesses can access in a timely way to compete with speculative developers.

3. Community-Building & Creating Trust

Support already strong connections between community-based and municipal organizations to create change at the local level. Facilitate conversations among stakeholders about trust and power as it relates to accumulating land. Be prepared to listen to stakeholders about their experiences with race, land, wealth, and power.

Other topics surfaced that warrant further exploration; they include: understanding the amount of capital needed to make an impact, exploring opportunities in available ground-floor retail in LIHTC buildings, most effective ownership models for nonprofit office spaces, improving access to information for program-related investments, identifying ways anchor institutions can support efforts with impact investments, and connecting developers and community.


In conclusion, while community development organizations, small businesses, and philanthropy cannot affect market conditions to make real estate more affordable, much can be accomplished by strengthening access to resources, strategically aligning philanthropic capital, and exploring the dynamics of race, ownership, wealth, and power that create disparities in commercial real estate ownership.

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