As midterm elections draw near, Coloradans are being tasked with many tough ballot decisions. Having already covered my thoughts on Props. 124, 125 and 126 for alcohol sale and delivery, as well as Prop. 122 for psilocybin, let’s now take a look at Prop. 123 for affordable housing.
Proposition 123 seeks to set aside 0.1% of Colorado’s existing tax rate to reserve it for affordable housing initiatives. This effectively mandates the state legislature to allocate funds toward affordable housing each year.
The amount could total nearly $300 million annually, with funding efforts to include land purchase lending, community, homebuyer and renter grants as well as efforts to address homelessness.
To say Colorado needs to work on affordable housing and homelessness would be an understatement. The state consistently scores poorly on national assessments of affordability, and recent calculations show housing prices would need to drop by 32% just to reach 2015 housing levels — and those prices were still too high for many Coloradans.
Unlike some of the other propositions on this year’s ballot, there aren’t nearly as many groups opposing this effort, and the few arguments against it — namely that annual TABOR returns could be slightly lower in some years — are weak at best given what stands to be gained.
Yet while much of the support for Prop. 123 discusses the benefits as largely centered around economic gain, which is true, not much has been said of the public health benefits that stand to be earned with a “yes” vote as well.
For years, research has demonstrated a strong link between affordable housing and public health outcomes. Some research even draws not only correlative results, but causal links between quality housing and health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, this also works in reverse, with direct links between low quality or lack of housing to poor health outcomes.
In the research, children have consistently been found to be among the most impacted by the lack of a quality home environment. Child learning and development are particularly impacted.
For example, a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University found that families who were forced to spend more than half of their income on housing saw their children’s math and reading suffer in comparison to families who spent only 30% of their income on housing.
Researchers linked it in part to having less funds available for enrichment materials or programs, a gap that can prove almost impossible for children to make up later in life.
The physical health of children is also greatly impacted. Studies show a significantly higher incidence of mental health disorders, elevated blood-lead levels, decreased overall safety (due to increased crime and domestic violence), increased respiratory ailments and more when families lack access to quality, affordable housing.
These impacts are often exacerbated by lingering systemic inequities that continue to disportionately impact marginalized groups, a fact that is, at least in part, addressed in Prop. 123.
There are small fixes that may be needed to Prop. 123. Potential issues include the required 3% annual growth for regions that have limited room to expand, as well as the fast-track approval process that, ironically, might be too fast in some situations.
However, as Prop. 123 is statutory and not constitutional, voters need not worry. Changes to the program can be made far more easily after public adoption by the state legislature as early as this coming session.
Supporting the first major affordable housing initiative could go a long way toward expanding Colorado’s overall success. Especially in offering the next generation their best chance at a long and healthy life, any small cost per person will more than pay for itself over time by investing in a more equitable, more sustainable and healthier future for us all.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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