Colorado is in the midst of a housing crisis, and it’s hitting working families hard.
Rents are eating up more and more of paychecks, and home values are rising so high and so fast that most regular folks are no longer able to afford their own home.
I’ve seen it firsthand in my hometown, Commerce City. Ten years ago a house in my neighborhood cost around $150,00 – $200,000. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find anything on the market for under $400,000.
Maybe that means your aging parents on a fixed income can’t afford to downsize as they wish. Maybe it means your kid’s teacher has to commute two hours a day because they can’t afford housing nearby.
It’s clear we need a solution to this crisis that will make sure every hardworking Coloradan can afford to live in a home near where they work and play. It’s a goal that previous generations could reliably achieve, and one that far too many of our neighbors can’t even start to approach.
Last year, Democrats in the state General Assembly invested nearly $500 million in federal pandemic relief funds to construct new affordable housing. Voters followed that up by approving hundreds of millions more to support new affordable housing projects across the state through Proposition 123. This year, we’re doubling down on our investment and bolstering the rights of renters, protecting them from unfair practices that only make our housing challenges worse.
What’s missing from all of these protections and investments is a plan to solve another piece of the puzzle: there simply aren’t enough homes to meet demand. For decades, Colorado communities have prioritized single-family detached homes on one lot. If we want to truly fix the housing affordability crisis, we must find ways to create more housing, now.
Research shows that increasing housing supply by building denser types of housing like duplexes and townhomes also increases affordability.
Unfortunately, these types of homes are often prohibited or tangled up in so much red tape they become effectively unbuildable in many of the communities that need them most. That doesn’t make sense, and it’s exactly the problem our proposal seeks to address.
Local governments have a critical role in determining how and where they grow. But communities must also take responsibility for the impacts they have on surrounding communities.
During my time on the City Council in Commerce City, we worked hard to make housing affordable. But our efforts were always limited. Anything we considered had to begin and end at the city boundary. The housing affordability crisis, however, does not care about local borders. It’s a statewide issue, and it deserves statewide attention.
That’s where Senate Bill 23-213 comes in. We’re proposing a set of clear, commonsense solutions that create a smart, holistic approach to expanding the menu of housing options families and communities are able to choose from. Here are the main ingredients:
First, each city or town should have a complete understanding of its housing needs, today and down the road. You can’t plan a solution without knowing the extent of the problem, so we’ve included resources for assessing our housing needs statewide, regionally, and at the local level. The bill then directs communities to create a plan to meet their housing needs over time, using a range of strategies to keep homes affordable across the income spectrum.
Second, to increase the number of available homes, we’re requiring larger cities and towns to allow more types of housing, whether it’s a duplex in downtown Denver, a townhome in Colorado Springs, or a single family home owner who wants to build an accessory dwelling unit in their backyard, we shouldn’t be artificially limiting the type of housing available to Coloradans.
Last, we’re removing restrictions and cutting red tape to increase housing affordability. The bill will make it easier and faster to build manufactured homes and will remove many restrictions on tiny homes. It will also prevent occupancy limits based on familial status, so four friends can live together without breaking the law in cities where it’s not currently legal.
Voters sent state lawmakers a message when they voted to forgo tax refund checks to help fund affordable housing efforts statewide through Prop. 123. With their ballot, they put this at the top of our agenda, and we must meet the moment. We must act to build more housing now.
The solutions we’re proposing focus on eliminating restrictions so we can build more homes that people can afford, quickly. Allowing communities to offer a diversity of homes to help meet demand will unlock the door to homeownership and affordable rent for thousands of our neighbors, and will help ensure every Colorado family is able to have a place to call home.
Dominick Moreno, of Commerce City, represents District 21 in the Colorado Senate, where he is majority leader.
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