Midterm voters will bear Colorado’s soaring housing costs

Inflated housing prices over the past few years have crept into every corner of Colorado. In the resort towns of the Rockies, wealthy newcomers are gobbling up dwindling housing supply. In Denver, tenants owe about $32 million in back rent. And in mobile home parks, the state’s last affordable bastions, foreign investors are buying up the land and raising lease prices.

Tired Coloradians have taken the crisis into their own hands and will vote on Tuesday on a slew of local and statewide ballot measures intended to rein in the soaring cost of housing.

The U.S. Census Bureau found that more than half of all renters in Colorado are considered rent-impaired, spending more than 30% of their income on rent in 2020. Colorado’s housing prices rank among the highest of the country taking into account the income of its residents. The Denver metro area alone has seen home prices rise 35% in the past two years, which is a bigger increase than New York and San Francisco, according to data from real estate firm Redfin.

Tyler Randolph, an eighth-grade teacher in Denver, said if an affordable housing solution doesn’t come from those he elected, “it has to come from somewhere else.” He voted for Proposition 123, a statewide measure that would direct about $300 million in state tax revenue each year toward low-cost housing. It is the only statewide affordable housing measure in the country that will be decided in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Voters in at least 13 Colorado communities or counties are considering measures that would raise taxes on short-term rentals such as those booked through Airbnb and Vrbo or redirect existing taxes on them to help cover housing costs, at least less in part.

In Colorado’s largest city of Denver, residents are considering levying a fee on most landlords who would fund attorneys for tenants facing eviction, which would expand the free representation low-income tenants can already receive.

Housing referendums come as last dregs of pandemic-era rental aid which acted as a bulwark against deportation for tens of thousands of Coloradans disappearing.

“People are grappling with urgent need and the immediacy of displacement, of gentrification, of the high cost of living,” said Zach Neumann, executive director of the Colorado COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which approved the statewide ballot measure. “They say, ‘What can I do now in my community to deal with the real consequences of this?'”

On Tuesday, 91-year-old Edna W. Williams stood behind her screen door and spoke to a cheery canvasser trying to persuade her to vote for the ballot measure. A former elder care nurse, Williams told canvassers she’s seen the inexorable rise in rents push seniors on fixed Social Security incomes out of their homes. She said she supported the initiative so that struggling older people “could die knowing that people cared enough”.

The statewide proposal would not raise taxes, but it would eat away at a tax refund Coloradons receive each year under a constitutional amendment called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Opponents say the proposal would take up too much space in popular TABOR checks.

The state should eliminate regulations and heavy building fees instead of cutting reimbursements from Coloradans, said Michael Fields, a senior adviser to a conservative advocacy group called Advance Colorado Action that opposes the measure.

“The whole market is out of whack,” Fields said. “We need to build more, not tax more.”

Denver’s measure would require most landlords in the city to pay $75 a year to fund attorneys for every tenant facing eviction. Proponents of the measure say it would help disproportionate representation in the courtroom.

Between July 2017 and June 2021, Colorado landlords had legal counsel in 77% of eviction cases while tenants were represented in only 1.3%, according to an analysis by Enterprise, a national housing organization. affordable.

Tenants without representation were less likely to reach an agreement with their landlord and more likely to be evicted, according to the report.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Congress opposes the measure, arguing that the fees will be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents. Adam Burg, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, argued that existing protections for low- and middle-income tenants, as well as nonprofits offering legal advice, are sufficient.

West of Denver, between the crags of the Rocky Mountains, at least 13 communities or counties have ballot measures that would raise taxes on short-term rentals or redirect existing taxes onto them to, in part, help cover housing costs.

Asked about the metrics, Tom Martinelli, Airbnb’s senior public policy officer, said, “Experts agree that the problem of affordable housing in communities across the United States can come down to simply not build enough affordable housing.

Martinelli added that Airbnb supports Colorado’s statewide housing ballot measure.

The sweeping move to raise taxes on short-term rentals is intended to counter the dramatic shifts in the housing market brought about in part by the pandemic’s remote working revolution. Across six popular Rocky Mountain counties, a surge of pandemic-era newcomers — most earning more than $150,000 a year — has outbid residents in a record frenzy for scarce homes, a survey by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

In one of the counties, Pitkin County, the city of Aspen has seen median home values ​​increase by nearly $1 million since the pandemic began, according to data from Zillow.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards said high costs have strangled Aspen’s most basic services. Faced with an extremely undersized police force over the summer, the city purchased two condominiums for $1 million each to entice two more officers to join the force, she said.

In response to the crisis, the city council added a ballot initiative that would raise taxes from 5% to 10% on short-term rentals depending on whether the units are owner-occupied. Just over two-thirds of that revenue would go to affordable housing projects in the community.

“You have to participate in your own rescue,” Richards said.

Ben Wolff, managing director of Frias Properties of Aspen, a company that handles short-term rentals, fears a tax hike could hamper the resort’s ability to attract holidaymakers. His organization instead proposes a tax cut in all sectors of the economy.

“It’s the right problem but the wrong solution,” Wolff said.


Jesse Bedayn is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.


Follow AP coverage of the midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and check https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors involved.

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