‘More housing now’: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis seeks to make housing reform a centerpiece of his 2024 agenda
Governor signals he will make a second attempt at land-use policy, a legislative priority of his that failed last session
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is on the road, visiting communities statewide to listen to constituents as he builds his 2024 legislative framework.
Stopping by the Summit Daily News on his way to Grand Junction on Thursday, Sept. 14, the governor discussed his top priorities, among them was his main focus of his second term: affordable housing.
“The high cost of housing is really strangling many of our communities,” Polis said. “We know that we need more housing now, and we’re looking forward to a really strong solution that works for the High Country, that works for the metro area.”
The issue enveloped state lawmakers this past legislative session, leading to wins and losses for pro-housing advocates and his administration.
The governor applauded the legislature’s passage of a bill banning growth limits, for example. But his marquee policy proposal, Senate Bill 213, which would have loosened zoning rules to allow for denser developments in cities and towns across Colorado, died on the final day of the legislative calendar.
Polis signaled he wants state lawmakers to revisit the issue next year, much as he did with universal preschool during his first term.
Some of S.B. 213’s pushback came from mountain resort towns where local officials said more density wasn’t the solution to driving down housing costs in their communities. It led state Sen. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat who represents Summit County, to support an amendment to the bill that removed density requirements for mountain resort areas while giving officials more flexibility to adopt housing strategies that would work for them.
As he looks to renew conversations around housing policy, Polis acknowledged “some of the solutions are the same” and “some need to be customized for how different areas work.”
With summers being hotter and drier, how prepared is Colorado to handle the new reality of fire season?
We’re more prepared than we ever were before, but the risk is also a lot higher than it ever was before. And the risk is higher for several reasons. One is climate change. The second is more utilization of our public lands and many of the fires people start. And the third is more people living in the wildland urban interface. So, what has the state done? We’ve acquired Firehawk helicopters, our own aerial capacity. We’ve deployed through Youth Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps active groups that are taking down trees and fuel near communities. I’ve joined them near Evergreen and Colorado Springs where they’re going out and doing perimeter defense around communities. We’ve upped the bar on supporting our local volunteer fire departments. We’ve been able to support them financially to help get the capital equipment that they need. So, we’re upping our response, but the need and the urgency are greater than ever before as well.
When it comes to education funding, one of the big things is this budget stabilization factor. You’ve made statements that you plan to buy that down. But one of the things that the superintendent here is super vocal about is that even if we were to buy down that factor, we would still be so far behind other states. What are you doing to get beyond just that to creatively help solve some of these challenges in better funding?
Well, we do expect that we will work with the legislature on a budget that will fully eliminate the budget stabilization factor for next school year, which is very exciting. And we know that districts will have discretion on how to use those additional resources. It usually means a combination of better teacher pay and smaller class sizes and more offerings for students — particularly enrichment offerings.
This is our first year of universal preschool, which every 4-year-old in Colorado can now go to preschool. Over 40,000 kids are in preschool. That’s about a 40% increase from the prior year now that it’s free. And we’re very excited about that as well and look forward to continuing to build that. There’s a ballot initiative, Prop II on the ballot that will allow some of the money that was already collected for preschool, tobacco, nicotine tax to be used for preschool because more money came in than the estimates.
With universal preschool, are there plans to sort of continue to expand that?
Our immediate plan is to get the universal program over the next couple of years up to 18 hours a week from 15 hours a week. So that’s what we’re working on. We’d also love to be able to support more families for full day that otherwise couldn’t afford full day. We certainly are supportive of more opportunities for 3-year-olds as well, particularly 3-year-olds from at-risk backgrounds.
Read the full Q&A at VailDaily.com.
Still, increasing supply could be key to driving down market-rate prices, which in mountain communities can hover in the millions. In Summit County, where the average single-family home sells for more than $2 million and rent ranges from $2,000 to $6,000, a recent housing study recommended local officials add an additional 2,500 units over the next five years to meet the needs of the workforce.
To that end, Polis said he wants to encourage more creation of duplexes and quadplexes, which he called “inherently more affordable” than single-family homes.
“We need to deliver market units that are $300,000 to $400,000. We’ve had a system that’s favored market units that are $800,000 or $1 million,” he said.
While much of that will come from energizing the private market, Polis said there is still a place for government-led housing reform. That includes inclusionary zoning ordinances, which can mandate a certain amount of affordable units in new builds at the local level, as well as tapping into federal low-income housing tax credits.
Polis did not endorse rent control, which some state lawmakers tried to allow with a bill last session, which would have rescinded a prohibition on local governments from enacting such a policy.
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“These kinds of proposals actually reduce development and new housing because effectively the return on housing is less,” he said. “The trade-off is there are less affordable units that are built for the future, and that’s one that we really can’t afford.”
By increasing the stock of lower-priced starter homes, it can allow families to move from renting to owning and eventually build wealth, Polis said.
“A place to live is great. But building equity and wealth is even more important for an aspiring middle class,” the governor said. “So we need both.”
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