In the State Legislature: SB23-213 “Build Housing Now” Bill Summary

By BHN Editor Kathleen McCormick

Responding to the housing crisis in Colorado and the need for more sustainable compact development to mitigate climate change, Governor Jared Polis on March 22 announced sweeping land use policy changes to allow more affordable housing development across the state. That afternoon, Democratic leaders in the Colorado General Assembly introduced Senate Bill 213, a 105-page bill that would require local governments to meet state standards for land-use and zoning policies, upending decades-old laws that have kept large portions of many Colorado cities locked in low-density suburban development. The legislation, currently under consideration, would cut red tape for housing development, ban municipal growth caps, and steer Colorado toward denser, more compact urban development in cities, along key transit corridors, and in resort areas. 

The Build Housing Now bill in the legislature aims to provide attainable housing within urban areas and mountain resort towns while curbing endless sprawl

Focusing on residential zoning, SB23-213 would require many cities to “upzone,” or rewrite zoning laws to allow denser and more varied kinds of housing. Instead of reserving neighborhoods just for single-family homes, these cities would have to allow “middle” housing types such as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in any area zoned residential (see accompanying article).

The biggest upzoning changes would apply to Colorado’s “Tier 1” cities and their suburbs—including Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins–as well as “rural resort job centers,” such as Vail, Aspen and Steamboat Springs.The Tier 1 cities and suburbs, including neighbors Louisville, Lafayette, and Longmont, would have to allow denser residential development in all single-family residential zones. Certain cities would have to allow denser residential development like townhomes and multi-story apartments around rail transit stations and along commercial corridors. The bill would also allow ADUs to be built “by right” in single-family neighborhoods. It would make it illegal for cities to impose occupancy limits on the number of unrelated people who can live together that are any different than the number of family members that can live together. (Our city code states no more than three unrelated people can live together in most Boulder neighborhoods). Rules for manufactured homes and other prefabricated residential structures would be revised under the state bill to make them easier to site and sell. 

Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, who is working on the bill with Gov. Polis’ administration, said “We need homes that fit (the) budgets of more Coloradans, and that’s exactly what this policy seeks to accomplish,” according to Colorado Public Radio. Moreno said research has shown that increasing housing supply by building units like duplexes and townhomes “can increase affordability. Yet these types of housing are often prohibited in many of the communities that need them the most. And that doesn’t make sense. The solutions we’re proposing focus on setting goals and eliminating restrictions so we can build more homes that people can afford quickly.”

One controversial aspect of the legislation is that the state would get more involved in planning for housing, including setting goals for cities. Opponents, including the Colorado Municipal League, Denver’s Metro Mayors Caucus, and some mountain town officials, have objected to the legislation as a loss of local control. Colorado cities and towns historically have determined their own land use and housing policies. The bill’s long list of supporters includes housing, environmental, social justice, and transit advocates such as Housing Colorado, Habitat for Humanity of Colorado, Colorado Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. They argue that Colorado’s current housing crisis is evidence that local control isn’t working, and cities need to share some control with the state.

The Senate Local Government and Housing Committee will work on amendments to the measure when it comes up on April 18. Stay tuned for more developments on SB23-213 and get ready to advocate for more housing for Colorado.

Share this post