Legislature’s Gutting of Polis’ Housing Proposal Will Prolong Affordability Crisis

Last week, the Colorado Legislature passed a 39-page amendment fundamentally altering Senate Bill 23-213, the comprehensive housing proposal Governor Jared Polis put forth earlier this year. The amendment effectively renders the proposal toothless, sadly making the much-needed construction of new housing subject to any bureaucratic barriers local governments may choose to put in place. This amendment passed around the same time the legislature failed to pass a bill out of committee that would have allowed cities to implement rent control, in which landlords have limits on how much they can increase rent between leases.

The previous bill sought to increase housing density by mandating that cities and towns change their zoning laws to allow for more construction of multi-unit housing in at least 30% of areas zoned for single-family housing, near transit hubs, and in resort towns. But the amended bill strips SB23-213 of all proposed zoning mandates and instead simply creates a multi-agency board that would assess housing needs in various communities and make non-binding recommendations.

According to KUNC, the new board would advise municipalities on strategies to make housing more affordable, and would be housed in the Department of Local Affairs. The Colorado Municipal League, which opposed the original bill on the grounds that it violated municipalities’ right to set land use policies within their own jurisdictions, supported the 39-page amendment.

It goes without saying that rapidly rising rents are one of the biggest economic hurdles facing working-class tenants in Colorado. According to an October 2022 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), median rents between 2017 and 2022 soared by a whopping 32 percent, with a bulk of that increase happening in 2021 and 2022. The CBPP maintains that adding new housing units and reversing restrictive local zoning ordinances (like single-family-only zoning laws) is a key to bringing rent costs down.

Gov. Polis’ original legislation would have greatly contributed to the construction of new housing units by expediting the granting of construction permits from 18 months to 18 days. This, combined with the original bill’s language that prevented municipalities from implementing restrictive zoning laws in place, would have resulted in an explosion of construction for new multi-unit housing in the cities and towns whose residents desperately need more affordable housing options.

Having a multi-agency board make recommendations to cities on making housing more affordable is a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly enough compared to the original proposal.

(Featured image: Wikimedia Commons)

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