Jan 17, 2024 - Politics

Democrats try a new approach to boosting affordable housing in Colorado

Illustration of a row of condo buildings with one wall rising up into the sky and forming an upward pointing arrow

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The mantra at the state Capitol this year: If we build it, housing will come.

Driving the news: Gov. Jared Polis and the Democratic-majority Legislature hope to build an environment where it's easier to boost the state's affordable housing supply to meet the current demand that is driving up home prices.

  • The recipe features financial incentives and fewer regulations for builders, rather than strict mandates on local communities.

Why it matters: The discussions during this legislative session represent a significant shift in the approach to addressing the state's housing crisis after a failed effort last year.

State of play: The revived effort, outlined by Polis in his recent State of the State address, includes a package of bills with five main tenets:

  1. Remove most local restrictions on building accessory dwelling units in populous areas, to create smaller, more affordable options.
  2. End occupancy limits to help renters defray costs.
  3. Allow seniors to maintain their housing tax break when they move, allowing them to downsize.
  4. Eliminate regulations, such as parking space requirements, construction liability for condos and financing obstacles.
  5. Provide tax credits for high-density housing near transit hubs.

What they're saying: "In our state, there is a sense of hopelessness and despair around housing that's on par, in some ways, with how people feel about the divisiveness of our national politics," Polis said in his speech.

The intrigue: The governor's strategy sounded different a year ago, when he used the annual address to blame local restrictions on housing for driving costs and called for a statewide solution.

  • The one-size-fits-all approach is not as strong this year, as lawmakers allow exceptions to limit the impact of new policies and discard a controversial idea for higher-density housing in single-family neighborhoods.

Of note: "We have tried to make sure that there are lots of ways that local governments can have a say in what gets built," state Rep. Judy Amabile told the Denver Post. "And so we've tried to have a lot of local control and just a little bit of state mandate."

What to watch: The 2023 housing bill failed in the Senate, but before the session, new Majority Leader Robert Rodriguez (D-Denver) shuffled two key committees to make it easier for liberal housing bills to pass this year.

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