Opinion | Bruce Butler: Hurting housing
Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.'” Right now, there are several bills working their way through the Colorado legislature that will undermine local land use planning and workforce housing initiatives. Should these bills pass, they will make rental housing less accessible and affordable.
Colorado has been behind the curve, as the state’s population growth has significantly outpaced new housing construction, over the past 20 years. It is a simple case of supply and demand. Earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled his plan to address residential land use planning and housing access and affordability. Some of the following measures directly support the governor’s plan or they are byproducts of his initiative that have been hatched in the Colorado House and Senate. In fairness, Gov. Polis has distanced himself from a few of the following bills; however, my interest lies in defeating bad policy, rather than detailing political in-fighting in the state Capitol.
The first bill is Senate Bill 23-213, which would impose top-down state standards for housing density on many towns and override local zoning authority. These mandates redefine existing uses by right and functionally centralize housing planning at the state level. Summit County’s home rule towns would fall under the Rural Resort Job Center category and could be forced to accept urban-style housing density zoning rules in single-family housing districts. This effort has been opposed by the Colorado Municipal League and many resort mountain towns. If this legislation were to become law, it would trample local control with no guaranty of providing more affordable housing options.
The next is S.B. 23-184, which prohibits landlords from considering or inquiring about a prospective tenant’s rental history, income and credit history. The bill imposes burdensome record-keeping requirements and penalties for violations, limits deposits to one month’s rent and allows tenants facing eviction to accuse landlords of violating unfair housing laws —t hereby enabling them to evade eviction for an indefinite amount of time. This ill-advised legislation will drive many landlords out of the rental market and others to raise costs across the board to offset the risk and costs of renting to unqualified, abusive and deadbeat tenants.
Similarly, House Bill 23-1171 tweaks landlord-tenant rules and rights to require “just cause” for evicting residential tenants. While rooted in compassion, this legislation severely constrains landlords’ ability to vacate leases at the end of their terms and forces landlords to pay relocation expenses. Not renewing leases is one way for landlords to strategically part ways with problematic tenants. This bill’s approach will not result in more stable housing for tenants. Under the terms of both bills, there will be fewer rental units available, and many tenants will incur higher rent costs.
Perhaps the worst bill of all is H.B. 23-1115, which would repeal the state prohibition on local governments enacting rent control policies. Capital investment would dry up and, in developments containing some rent-controlled units, rents would have to rise faster in the non-rent-controlled units to make the project work financially. It is hard to think of a quicker way to implode apartment housing development in Colorado.
Rent control advocates ignore history and economic reality. For instance, last Fall, St. Paul, Minnesota, was forced to delay and overhaul a number of rent-control provisions passed just five months earlier as housing developments were halted and financing for new housing developments dried up. In New York City, back in the early 1980s, successive years of rent control made it impossible for many landlords to cover mortgage costs, pay taxes and afford property improvements. As a result, arsonists burned hundreds of buildings to collect insurance. Rent control has failed miserably every time it has been tried. Rent control should be burned on the scrapheap of history.
While we will never catch up with the demand, Summit County is ahead of the curve when it comes to workforce housing construction and options for rent and ownership. Heavy-handed state mandates will hinder, not help, Summit County’s efforts. Big government mandates are a bad idea. Summit County’s state senator, Dylan Roberts, is in a position to block or neutralize several of these measures. Let’s hope common sense prevails and these bills are defeated.
Bruce Butler's column "Common Sense Conversations" publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Butler is a former mayor and council member in Silverthorne, where he has lived for 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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