Colorado lawmakers look to fund affordable housing in waning days of session
Special to the Vail Daily
With just two weeks left in the legislative session, Colorado lawmakers are scrambling to pass a pair of bills that could help ease the affordable housing crunch in Eagle County.
House Bill 1322, sponsored by state Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, would require the state treasurer to transfer a portion of the unclaimed property trust fund to the Colorado Division of Housing for a housing development grant fund.
“My bill will dedicate up to $40 million a year into a statewide housing fund in a fiscally responsible way — it does not raise any taxes or fees — that will be used as a grant program for local public-private partnerships that are working to develop housing units, provide rental assistance in rural areas, and other innovative partnerships,” Roberts said.
The bill passed out of House Finance Committee on a 9-2 vote last week, with two Republicans — Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, and Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction — joining all seven Democrats in voting to send it to the House Appropriations Committee this week.
“This bill, along with other housing bills, could result in an historic change in the way the state supports affordable housing development and access in Colorado, especially in the mountain communities that I represent,” said Roberts, who represents Eagle and Routt counties.
How the bill would work
The unclaimed property trust fund consists of dormant bank accounts, securities and life insurance proceeds and other unclaimed funds the treasurer attempts to return to Colorado residents every year with varying degrees of success. In the past, it has been used for dental benefits and adult Medicaid recipients, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.
HB 1322 would support home ownership and rental assistance for people making up to 120 percent of area median income (AMI), which is critical in high cost-of-living areas like Eagle County. State housing support currently ends at 80 percent AMI.
A housing crisis in Colorado
The Vail Valley Partnership, whose board of governors has identified affordable housing as its No. 1 priority, cites Eagle County’s overall 176.3 cost of living index against the nationwide average of 100 and its off-the-scale 340 housing cost index.
“Currently and anecdotally, units that have been long-term workforce rentals are being removed from that market as they are converted into short-term rentals,” the valley-wide chamber states. “This has the potential to grow both catch-up and keep-up needs for workforce housing. We want to ensure our community can remain competitive to keep locals local and to support our business community.”
In resort areas, the high cost of land and construction dictates the need for public sector participation in workforce and attainable housing projects. Ski towns across the country are exploring all sorts of creative public-private partnership models, and recent polling shows 60 percent of Coloradans say there’s a housing crisis in their community.
Another bill, HB 1245, would increase affordable housing funding by capping the amount of sales taxes large retailers retain as a fee for collecting the tax. The bill, which is on the House floor this week, could result in an additional $50 million a year for the affordable housing fund.
“Both HB 1322 and HB 1245 address the affordable housing problem in targeted and creative ways with no implications to taxpayers or other budget priorities,” the CCLP states. “Together, these bills could help thousands of Coloradans better afford a home and let them devote more of their hard-earned money to other essential needs.”
Although not a sponsor, Roberts also supports HB 1245, citing its creative method of funding housing while not dipping into existing general fund sources. Other housing bills introduced this session sought to increase fees or provide tax credits for housing, and Democrats are rejecting those after finalizing a hard-fought $30.5 billion budget.
Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, has been trying to incentivize employee housing in rural areas since joining the legislature in 2013. He floated a state tax credit pilot program, HB19-1075 (pdf), that for the first time made it out of the House Finance Committee. It would have allowed for a 20 percent state tax credit on donations to nonprofit housing authorities developing workforce housing in rural areas, but it appears the bill will once again be stalled before going to the House floor.
“In the rural areas in particular, if you’re a business person and you want to expand that business, there’s no housing there, so if we can give some incentives to rural areas and employers to have some kind of a tax credit, albeit very small, let’s at least see if it’s going to work,” Wilson said earlier this year.
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Alex Rager believes that the search for affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley can sometimes boil down to luck and timing. “When you least expect it and when you most need it is when things happen,” she said.