While the More Housing Now bill was defeated in the Colorado legislature last month, the need for housing continues to plague Colorado, particularly in busy mountain towns and the cities along the Front Range. It is certain that some of the measures in this bill will be part of next year’s legislative session.
Other states have taken action after realizing that cities themselves—their land use regulations, their expensive, long approval process and the ease with which neighborhoods defeat new housing—are the chief obstacles to the expansion of reasonably priced housing.
- Iowa, Oregon and Washington all now prohibit local occupancy restrictions based—as Boulder’s limit is—on family status. State courts already previously struck down such restrictions in California, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York.
- Florida is preempting local control to expand affordable housing in commercial, industrial or mixed-use zones. Florida also permits housing to be developed at the highest density permitted within the municipality, preempting local government rules on zoning and building heights under some circumstances as well.
- Oregon, California, Vermont, Maine, and Washington all allow more units in single-family zones.
Local land use restrictions have consequences far beyond just impeding the construction of additional homes. The restrictions have significant negative impacts on the environment, economic growth, income inequality, social mobility, transportation choices, racial integration, and the health of families. There is a lot of land available within existing urban growth boundaries to create more housing. To the extent housing can be developed within existing borders, it prevents further sprawl. But nearly all of the available land for residential development within urban areas is dedicated to single-family houses. The owners, while often professing support for affordable housing, just don’t want it here: in their backyard.
Boulder City Council and Mayor Aaron Brockett, uniquely among Colorado municipalities, engaged in a discussion of statewide solutions to the housing crisis that were advanced in the General Assembly this year by Governor Polis and sponsors of theMore Housing Now, Senate bill SB13-213. This bill proposed a number of changes to increase the supply of housing. It would have required local jurisdictions to perform a housing needs assessment, permit ADUs on all single-family lots, reduce required parking, and increase density and middle-income housing, especially along transportation corridors.
It cannot be predicted in what form Governor Polis and the General Assembly will choose to tackle housing in 2024. But change will come in reaction to the hydraulic pressure of the housing crisis. And the Boulder City Council deserves credit for stepping out on this issue and asking to work with the legislature and Governor’s office to craft stateside solutions that will help expand attainable housing within our existing cities, avoiding the environmental cost of forcing new housing onto forests, fields, and hillsides that are far from urban centers.
Colorado eventually will have to follow the lead that has been taken in other states by implementing some of the provisions that were contained in SB23-213.