Rent control policies would be up to Colorado local governments under new bill
Gov. Polis ‘skeptical’ of proposed legislation
A newly introduced bill in the Colorado House of Representatives would allow counties and municipalities to enact rent control measures, one of the first tangible efforts by lawmakers to address affordable housing this session.
House Bill 23-1115 would strike decades-old language from state statutes that prohibits local governments from imposing rent control. It would not enact any stabilization or rent control policies statewide, but rather empower local governments to roll out their own policies.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Passing this legislation does not implement rent stabilization in any community in our state. It just gives local communities the authority to do so,” one of the bill’s primary sponsors, state Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Denver Democrat, said.
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“Teachers and nurses are getting priced out of their communities,” he said. “The cost of living in Colorado is just too high.”
The bill, prime-sponsored by Mabrey and state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs with the support of 20 other Democratic representatives, comes as lawmakers mull over the solution to an affordable housing crisis in the state. Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, made the issue a centerpiece of his State of the State address last week, but he focused more on land use policy and increased public-private partnerships than measures like rent control.
“Housing as a whole is one of our priorities at the caucus level,” Velasco said. “There’s a lot of bills coming, from zoning to rent protection. All together it’s going to really work well for working families.”
She noted that rent stabilization would especially benefit people who work in mountain communities like the one she represents, where a high cost of living often necessitates long commutes.
“We want to bring in the talent we need to thrive and for working families to have a dignified home,” she said.
Democrats enjoy substantial majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Mabrey said he is in conversation with Polis’ office about the bill. Last year, Polis threatened to veto a bill that would have set a cap on annual rent increases for mobile homes. The resulting bill, which was signed into law, trimmed that provision.
“The Governor and his team are always open to seeing specific proposals and letting legislators know if they have any concerns. Governor Polis is skeptical that rent control will create more housing stock, and locations with these policies often have the unintended consequences of higher rent,” Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis, wrote in an email.
Mabrey said, however, that he is optimistic lawmakers and the governor can partner and get legislation across the finish line.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to the housing crisis. But rent stabilization helps stabilize our communities, helps keep communities together and helps prevent unnecessary displacement.
– State Rep. Javier Mabrey
House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, told reporters Tuesday that this bill is just one of dozens to expect this session to address housing.
The resurgence of a rent stabilization policy after last year’s mobile home bill, she said, is a “recognition that the plight of renters in this state is very real.”
“What you’re seeing in this policy is a recognition of a problem that still exists and another approach, trying to figure out how local communities can address this,” she said.
Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, told reporters Tuesday morning that bills that tackle different aspects of the affordable housing issue, such as the rent control measure and one that addresses public-private partnerships, aren’t necessarily in conflict with each other.
“They can all coexist in the deliberative space of the Legislature,” he said. “We’ll see what passes but these two policies in particular don’t have a lot of overlap.”
He said he suspects the debate around various affordable housing bills, including ending the rent control preemption, will be divisive.
Mabrey said the ideas floating around in the Legislature are “essential pieces of the same puzzle” to the affordable housing question.
“There is no silver bullet when it comes to the housing crisis. But rent stabilization helps stabilize our communities, helps keep communities together and helps prevent unnecessary displacement. I also agree that we need to cut unnecessary red tape and lead to the building of more housing, but affordability metrics need to be part of that conversation,” he said.
Majority of states preempt rent control
Opponents worry that if municipalities decide to pass rent control measures, it will have unintended negative consequences on the state’s housing landscape as a whole.
“Colorado’s prohibition against local governments enacting rent control ordinances for more than 50 years is both a recognition of the damage rent control can do to available housing and also an understanding that one local government’s housing policy negatively impacts neighboring communities,” Andrew Hamrick, the senior vice president of government affairs for the Colorado Apartment Association wrote in an email.
“If a municipality like Denver enacts rent control and builders decrease new housing units in Denver because of it, the cost of housing in all the surrounding municipalities is driven up because of it. People in Aurora and Greenwood Village end up paying more for housing because their neighbor artificially reduced supply with the rent control ordinance,” he wrote.
Colorado is part of the majority of states that preempt rent control, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have rent control policies at the state or local level.
The bill was assigned to the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government committee.
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