Colorado Legislators Address Important Housing Issues

The 2016 Colorado State Legislative session underway for nearly two months is addressing a number of important affordable housing issues supported by advocates led by Housing Colorado, an NLIHC State Partner.  New bills would provide for a new Homeless Bill of Rights and improve housing authorities’ operations. Legislation is expected soon on state funding for affordable housing and reforms to the state’s construction defects law.

A Homeless Bill of Rights that was introduced but failed to pass in the 2015 session has been introduced this year by Representatives Jovan Melton (D) and Joseph Salazar (D) as the “Colorado Right to Rest Act” (H.B. 16-1191). This bill would establish basic rights for persons experiencing homelessness, including the right to use and move freely in public spaces without discrimination, to rest in public spaces without discrimination, to eat or accept food in any public space where food is not prohibited, to occupy a legally parked vehicle, and to have a reasonable expectation of privacy of one's property. The bill does not create an obligation for a provider of services for persons experiencing homelessness to provide shelter or services when none is available. While this bill has raised some concerns among opponents regarding public safety issues, it has elevated the issue of homelessness in Colorado and the lack of adequate resources to address homelessness. The bill is awaiting its first hearing in the House.

Two proposals to assist housing authorities have been introduced and have considerable support. The first, H.B. 16-1069, sponsored by Representatives Dominick Moreno (D) and Bob Rankin (R) and Senator Kevin Grantham (R) would provide local jurisdictions greater flexibility in determining the length of terms for individuals serving on housing authority boards. This bill was passed in both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support and is awaiting Governor John Hickenlooper’s (D) signature.

The second, H.B. 16-1006, introduced by Representatives KC Becker (D) and Alec Garnett (D) would clarify qualifying tax exemptions for housing authorities. The bill would greatly reduce housing authorities’ construction costs, often saving thousands of dollars or more per development. H.B. 16-1006 passed initial House committees with nearly unanimous bipartisan support and is expected to be voted on by the full House soon.

Mobile home legislation (S.B. 16-057) offered by Senator John Kefalas (D) suffered a setback. This bill proposed a number of measures designed to preserve mobile communities as a critical component of the affordable housing inventory in Colorado. All three Republicans on the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee voted to postpone the bill indefinitely, effectively killing it. The two Democrats on the committee voted against the postponement. Despite its failure in committee, the bill provided an opportunity for advocates to educate lawmakers about the need for affordable home ownership in Colorado and about the inventory at risk.

The already busy legislative session is expected to get busier in the coming weeks with two of advocates’ biggest priorities – funding for affordable housing and reform of the construction defects law that is currently discouraging the production of affordable condos and townhomes – expected to be addressed soon. Lawmakers in the House and Senate are working on bills related to these two issues. Housing Colorado will keep advocates updated on all pertinent bills during this year’s Legislative session through its online bill report.

Housing Colorado Executive Director Sarah Reynolds states: “Colorado – especially in the urban areas – has become one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. With 2016 elections looming, housing issues in general, and affordable housing in particular, is at the top of legislators’ agendas and has captured public attention. We are optimistic that the Housing Colorado membership will be able to capitalize on these opportunities and see substantive progress on affordable housing this year, with real impact on the ability of our communities to respond to the growing affordable housing crisis.”

For more information, contact Sara Reynolds at [email protected]