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an aerial view of a residential neighborhood.
Eighty-two percent of respondents to the annual Pulse poll said that the cost of housing is an "extremely" or "very" serious problem in Colorado. The highest levels of concern came from respondents in the Denver Metro region. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order Monday directing his administration to promote and streamline affordable, environment-minded housing development in Colorado that’s focused around transit.

It’s a decree he admits will have limited effect but that is intended to send a strong message to local governments and state lawmakers that they should follow suit.

“It’s very important for the state to have the moral high ground,” Polis told The Colorado Sun in an interview. “If we’re going to be asking local governments to turn around (building) approvals quicker and allow more housing to be built — get government out of the way and streamline their processes — it’s very important that the state leads by doing that first.”

The governor’s ability to try to make a lasting impact on housing policy on his own is constrained. He needs the legislature’s assistance to change state law and to direct any new state spending.

“No executive order alone will solve our housing crisis,” he conceded at a news conference where the order was unveiled.

But the six-page directive, which comes after Senate Bill 213, Polis’ signature measure aimed at boosting affordable housing, failed in the legislature this year, keeps affordable housing in the headlines and as part of the statewide conversation.

Colorado Gov Jared Polis responds to a question during a news conference in the State Capitol, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Denver. Democratic lawmakers spoke about the recently-concluded legislative session. (Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado via AP)

The order attempts to incorporate some aspects of Senate Bill 213 on a smaller scale by setting “strategic growth goals.”

It calls on several state agencies to “inventory all policies, plans, procedures and rules for programs that provide support to local governments … for housing development, transportation, economic development, water infrastructure and conservation, and other growth-related programs.” The governor wants to make sure the programs promote efficient development that aligns with his climate goals — including by reducing transit and sprawl — and that the development creates housing “for every budget.”

One tangible goal the governor hopes his order will accomplish is reducing the turnaround time for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to approve funding for affordable housing projects. The process takes about 240 days now and he wants it to be 90 days by July 2024. Eventually, Polis wants the process to take as few as 10 days.

The governor said “with housing, time is money,” so the state needs to have a “laser-like focus” in quickly turning around money and applications.

“Now, of course, that’s only for a percentage of the total projects that are built in the state,” he said. “It’s really just the state doing the piece that we can do. It’s not insignificant. It absolutely will help facilitate and accelerate housing on the affordable front.”

The agencies affected by the order are the Colorado Energy Office, the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Local Affairs, the Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Department of Personnel and Administration. 

The agencies have until Dec. 15 to submit a report to the governor’s office on what they find.

The order doesn’t come with additional funding for affordable housing initiatives. It would take legislative action to do that.

“What this does is it focuses the expenditures we have,” Polis said, including new funding generated by the passage last year of Proposition 123, which sets aside up to $290 million annually in existing tax revenue for affordable housing projects.

The governor said the order has been in the works for “a while” and that he consulted with developers, local officials and housing advocates in putting it together.

The governor believes promoting more housing development, mainly through density, will help Coloradans struggling to find an affordable place to live. But he’s clashed with fellow Democrats over his proposals.

Polis pushed the legislature this year to pass Senate Bill 213, which started out as a mandate that cities and towns zone for greater residential housing density. But the measure faced fierce resistance from local governments and was pared back in the Senate to a task force. 

The legislation was then partially resurrected in the House to increase the number of multifamily homes around bus and train stops in Colorado’s large cities. But the Senate was unwilling to accept those changes and the bill died on the calendar in the final hours of the 2023 lawmaking term, a major defeat for Polis.

Both the Colorado House and Senate are controlled by Democrats.

There are signs aspects of the bill will be pursued again in 2024, and Polis said Monday that “the efforts around land-use reform are continuing.”

Gov. Jared Polis signs a housing executive order on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, in his office at the Colorado Capitol. (Elliott Wenzler, The Colorado Sun)

“We are confident that the governor and the legislature will continue to keep the issue of housing top of mind as we move toward 2024,” Brian Rossbert, executive director of Housing Colorado, a nonprofit, said in a written statement as part of a news release issued by the governor. “The actions taken today will help inform further legislative action that will help move the needle on our housing crisis.”

The 2024 legislative session begins in January.

Colorado Sun staff writer Elliott Wenzler contributed to this report.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....