The Colorado General Assembly is considering a slate of bills based on the recommendations of the state’s Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force that would collectively direct just over $400 million in federal and state resources to addressing Colorado’s affordable housing crisis.
Many policymakers and advocates have focused on directing these funds to build new, affordable homes across the state. Increasing housing production is one important and desperately needed solution to the affordability challenges Coloradans face — but we need a more equitably balanced response in order to stabilize renters and landlords alike, who are struggling now.
We had a housing crisis long before Covid-19, but the pandemic only made it more difficult for many Coloradans to afford a safe, healthy, affordable home. Federal and state funds could meaningfully support low-income renters, including those finding it difficult to secure a new home after losing their last one during the pandemic, and those who have hung on but are at risk of eviction.
In addition to building more rental housing, we should redouble efforts to preserve the affordability of housing already occupied by renters, the majority of which have no protections in place to ensure their long-term affordability. Many such properties are older buildings with fewer than 50 units in need of updating and renovation, and are often owned by small landlords who cannot easily afford repairs.
These small- and medium-sized buildings are a critical source of housing for lower-income households. Funding the acquisition and renovation of such properties with guarantees for long-term affordability, or supporting current landlords in making needed upgrades, are essential strategies to keeping tenants from being displaced — a problematic trend in metro areas and long a need in rural communities.
Additionally, because federal pandemic-related rental assistance is a limited resource, grant funds also should be directed to flexible rental-assistance programs. Many renters have exhausted the short-term federally funded rental assistance available to them; others are struggling to make ends meet but were never eligible. Still others have never known about rental assistance or are up against language, technology, or other accessibility barriers.
To overcome these obstacles, these dollars should also support the organizations that ensure rental and legal assistance gets to the individuals and families who need it. For instance, a partnership between BuCu West Development Association and the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative, a program of the Denver Housing Authority, has created the West Denver Community Connectors program, which empowers local leaders with established networks to provide outreach and assistance to underrepresented residents.
Since launching in July 2020, connectors have directly reached more than 1,200 households, facilitated more than 300 successful rental assistance applications, and completed more than 400 referrals and applications to other community resources. As connector Reyna Zarate-Cruz tells us, “I was able to convince a husband, who was losing hope, to pursue all opportunities and after a few applications and a bit of time, all his overdue rent and utilities were covered. I had a moment of relief when I knew he was able to receive the help his family needed and thanked all people and God for the eyes on and support for his family.”
Supporting trusted entities like West Denver Community Connectors to provide outreach, education, housing counseling, and systems navigation services is critical to maximizing the impact of other public funds and moving from an emergency response to sustainable solutions in areas vulnerable to displacement. Such investments are provided for in a proposed grant program under consideration by the General Assembly, dedicated to affordable housing, and another pandemic recovery bill focused on capacity-building among small, community-based groups.
And of course, all of this will help stabilize landlords, particularly those managing affordable properties who themselves have been stretched thin by the pandemic.
Many entities beyond the General Assembly will have a significant role to play once these affordable housing bills pass into law and money begins flowing. We encourage implementing agencies to engage in robust outreach efforts, and for local governments, nonprofit community partners, and mission-driven developers to seek and deploy these public funds to help individuals and families hurt most by the pandemic’s health and economic impacts.
Kinsey Hasstedt, of Denver, is the State & Local Policy Director for Enterprise Community Partners in Colorado and served on the SubPanel to the Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force.
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