Right now, thousands of people in Colorado endure the cruel indignities of homelessness. And millions of others struggle to afford food, utilities and medicine after paying their mortgages and rent. In response, Gov. Jared Polis and state lawmakers have proposed a law to make housing more affordable for everyone. 

The bill, known as “More Housing Now” or by its official title, Senate Bill 23-213, would relax the roadblocks, red tape and zoning restrictions local governments use to stop urgently needed new housing from getting built. And it has many city council members, town managers and mayors across the state throwing tizzies and temper tantrums. 

They are angry because the legislation would trim some of their power. But state lawmakers must ignore their opposition and pass the bill. Simply put, local leaders have had decades to solve the housing shortages in their communities. And they have failed.  

Today, 1.9 million Coloradans live in homes that cost more than 30% of their household income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s 1 out of every 3 people in the state. For people in these “cost-burdened households,” often all it takes to end up on the streets is an unexpected illness, car repair or family emergency. And between 2007 and 2021, the number of people staying in Colorado homeless shelters increased 266%, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

At this scale, homelessness and housing unaffordability are humanitarian crises. To solve these emergencies, you might think local officials would welcome help from the state. But most are fuming about this proposed law, including Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. 

“All of a sudden, the state legislature, in their wisdom, is saying, ‘You’re not doing a good enough job, you don’t know what you’re doing. We do, we’re going to tell you what to do,’” he told The Denver Post last month. “But apparently, we’re too stupid to understand the need for affordable housing — and only the state understands what we need to do.” 

I’m not calling anyone stupid. But as the writer Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

It’s clear local politicians like Suthers don’t fully grasp the overwhelming need for new housing. Or maybe it’s fairer to say they can’t. They work under the unrelenting bombardment of angry howls and hollers from constituents determined to stop any changes to their communities.

According to Boston University researcher Catherine Einstein’s book Neighborhood Defenders, these activists — often white, wealthy, older male homeowners — have a disproportionate say in local politics. 

Many are retired and show up in force to the meetings in church basements and town councils where housing decisions are made. 

And you know who often can’t weigh in on these conversations? Teachers, firefighters, nurses and grocery store staff — the people who are too busy working or taking care of their children to advocate for the housing they desperately need.

But the NIMBY — Not In My Backyard — activists march on, raising their fists and roaring with a never-ending list of excuses to stop new housing. 

They bristle in dismay if there’s a conversation about adding a cottage to a neighbor’s backyard. The objection? Street parking that currently goes unused might actually get used! If a duplex is suggested near one of their homes? It might overwhelm the sewers! they shout. And when there’s talk of new apartments near a bus stop and the building could rise to six stories? Well, such a towering edifice would cast an unsightly shadow! they squawk. 

When NIMBY excuses focus on how new housing would overwhelm city infrastructure, it’s often a smokescreen. In cases where infrastructure needs to be updated, the costs are often insignificant, according to research from Tufts University

What the housing obstructionists really fear is the arrival of people with lower incomes and nonwhite racial backgrounds. According to Einstein’s book, they’re afraid new neighbors will reduce the value of their homes. 

These shameful motives often force NIMBYs to twist their sentiments into weird justifications. Last August, for example, Vail came up with a unique way to ram a housing proposal to death. They blamed it on the sheep. 

The ski town, located in a county short 6,000 beds for its workforce, stopped a project that would have housed 165 resort employees after a herd of bighorn sheep wandered onto the property. Although the builder pledged to spend $100,000 for habitat restoration and the installation of barriers to keep people and pets away from the animals, the Vail Town Council condemned the land and blocked all permits for the project. 

Elsewhere in the state, local officials seem to design the housing reform process specifically for the NIMBYs who have nothing better to do than attend meetings. 

In Denver, for example, building anything but a single-family home is illegal on 77% of land zoned for housing, according to city documents. Mayor Michael Hancock and city council members recognize that more affordable types of housing — like duplexes, triplexes and townhomes — need to be scattered throughout every neighborhood. And they could have already legalized them citywide. 

But instead, they devised the neighborhood planning initiative. It centers on what will eventually be hundreds of meetings, with city planners slowly moving from neighborhood to neighborhood in an apparent effort to search every corner of the city for excuses not to allow even the gentlest of housing density. 

Since 2017, the process has covered just one-third of the city, and it will be many years before it is complete. Whatever it achieves, it will likely do little to lower housing costs, especially as Denver’s rapidly increasing population of unhoused people signals an intensifying housing shortage. 

In the five years since this process started, the city’s homeless population increased 44% to 4,794 in 2022 from 3,336 in 2017, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. 


Sure, John Suthers is furious. Yes, Vail’s Town Manager Russ Forrest has concerns. And I’m sure Mayor Hancock felt great getting cheered after telling a group of local leaders, “we will never, ever surrender local control to anyone.” 

But the evidence is plain. Local control hasn’t worked because local officials are too beholden to housing obstructionists. 

And Colorado voters agree. According to a Healthier Colorado poll released in February, two-thirds would support a state law eliminating local restrictions on building homes like duplexes, triplexes and townhomes to ensure more people had an affordable place to live.

Across the country and in the Mountain West, other states have figured this out, too. From Washington and Arizona to New Mexico and Montana, these states have started deregulating the local restrictions responsible for housing shortages. It’s time for Colorado to follow their lead. 

The More Housing Now bill is a necessary first step. State lawmakers must now strengthen the legislation to relax the red tape, regulations and outdated zoning controls localities have leaned on for decades to limit housing construction. They must insist that abundant housing is built in the places that offer the most job opportunities. And they must ensure these measures are powerful enough to drive down housing costs so that every Coloradan can afford a place to live. 

Andy Bosselman, of Denver, is a freelance opinion writer. He volunteers with the pro-housing group YIMBY Denver but his views may not reflect those of the organization. Twitter: @andybosselman

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Andy Bosselman

Andy Bosselman is a freelance opinion writer. He volunteers with the pro-housing group YIMBY Denver but his views may not reflect those of the organization. Twitter: @andybosselman