The 2022 election results revealed that the dire need and overwhelming public support for affordable housing throughout Colorado — particularly in the central mountains — have never been greater.
From Summit County to Gunnison County, from Aspen to Salida, no fewer than a dozen mountain counties and municipalities approved ballot measures this November, creating new funding sources designed to generate money for affordable housing. Newly approved taxes on resort town vacation rentals are expected to soon provide as much as $40 million a year toward affordable housing programs in surrounding communities.
That funding comes in addition to the statewide measure just approved by voters that will set aside roughly $300 million a year in existing tax revenue for affordable housing programs. And while the sweeping success of these measures is an obvious sign of the increased angst among residents facing record high rents and record low housing options, there is much more work on the horizon to ensure equity in these programs.
The Latino community in the central-mountain region is among the most impacted by the prevailing housing inequity. Most affordable housing programs, however, are weighted toward teachers, firefighters, nurses and other “critical” year-round employees. The programs often are promoted on the grounds of supporting these professions, which happen to be the professions where Latinos are least represented.
Intentionally or not, we are often excluded from accessing these housing programs simply because we are generally under-represented in the ranks of teachers, first responders, and other roles the programs traditionally accommodate. But that doesn’t make us any less “essential.”
There’s a compelling argument that the Latino workforce serves as the backbone of the resort communities where so many affordable-housing measures were approved, whether as construction workers building the necessary infrastructure or service-industry workers who keep the businesses and community running. Such important roles deserve to be recognized as these new affordable housing resources are put to use. To truly address the ongoing challenge of housing affordability in Colorado, we need to encourage programs that provide options that are affordable for all workers, not just some.
Genuine equity in affordable housing extends beyond government-subsidized programs. It also must require large resort and lodge operators to extend employee housing to service workers who are hired through third-party contractors. And it means putting additional policies in place to protect tenants from soaring rent increases in mobile home parks and similarly affordable dwellings that many in the Latino community currently depend upon. It also means that communities must support increased density in order to provide workforce housing at a scale and price point that meets the needs of Latino residents.
Finally, more emphasis must be placed on Latino homeownership. Rather than being kept in rental units or unsubsidized housing like mobile home parks that don’t appreciate in value, Latinos need equitable support for home ownership opportunities, too. Many of the recently successful ballot measures include the ability to use funds to support home ownership through initiatives like down-payment assistance programs that can enable lifelong renters to begin generating wealth.
It comes as no surprise that nearly 80% of Latino voters surveyed in our first-ever Colorado Latino Exit Poll voted in favor of Proposition 123 – which sets aside up to 0.1% of state income-tax revenue each year for statewide affordable housing programs – helping to push it to victory in an otherwise tight race. Similarly, our pre-election Colorado Latino Policy Agenda polling found that creating affordable and attainable housing ranked among the top issues for Colorado officials to address. What’s more, 76% of the 1,500 Latino voters polled supported passing legislation that regulates how much lot rent at mobile home parks can be increased each year.
It’s clear that Latinos need better options for affordable housing, and need the state and local governments to act. The measures passed this November have made resources available for communities to transform the affordable housing landscape, but we must ensure those actions are equitable, that those resources are available to all families, not just those who have traditionally benefited from affordable housing models.
As we’ve seen from the success of ballot measures in this election, housing is a winning campaign issue and one that voters show up for. It’s also one that should cause policymakers at all levels to take action.
But the status quo is not enough. Decisions need to be driven by genuine solutions, and that means involving the Latino community in the planning process. It means creating projects that are not just “affordable” for teachers and first responders, but equitable for all other working-class families as well. It means embracing innovative ideas, like rent control measures and increased housing densities on under-developed properties. And it means continuing to say “yes” to accessible and affordable housing for all locals.
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