Construction crews work on building a 77-unit affordable housing project called The Village at Solid Rock in southeast Colorado Springs.

They came by the dozens.

Mothers, fathers, single parents, families, seniors, high school students, state employees, elected officials from communities all over the state, teachers, housing advocates.

They all shared a common problem: They can't afford — or their constituents can't afford — to live in Colorado anymore, and they hope a bill lifting state preemption on rent control and turning the matter over to local communities will provide a way home.

On the other side are landlords, chambers of commerce, attorneys, and apartment or mobile home park owners, some of whom provide affordable housing.

Opponents of the measure reiterated the same message: Rent control doesn't work, and it could make a bad situation worse.

House Bill 1115 won support on an 8-5 vote from the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee late Wednesday after more than eight hours of testimony from more than 100 people on both sides of the issue.

The bill — sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Mabrey of Denver and Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs, as well as by Sen. Robert Rodriguez of Denver — now moves on to the full House, where it faces an uncertain future.

Gov. Jared Polis has opposed strict rent control, even threatening a veto over a 2022 measure that sought to impose rent caps at mobile home parks. Another bill in 2021, which skirted previous bans on rent control by allowing local governments to regulate development through land use policy, required careful negotiation to avoid a veto.

In a statement to Colorado Politics Wednesday, Polis spokesman Conor Cahill said the governor is "skeptical that rent control will create more housing stock, and locations with these policies often have the unintended consequences of higher rent," strongly indicating the bill is not acceptable in its current form.

Colorado’s prohibition on rent control dates back to a 1981 state law, a response to a citizen initiative in Boulder that imposed rent control, and a 2000 Colorado Supreme Court ruling on an ordinance from Telluride.

The 1981 state law said rent control on private residential housing is a matter of statewide concern, and local governments cannot enact ordinances or resolutions that would “control rent on either private residential property or a private residential housing unit.”

As introduced, House Bill 1115 would repeal that section of statute. It also strikes a similar section of statute that applies to land use regulation in which rent control is imposed on newly constructed or redeveloped housing.

The measure's critics said imposing rent control helps people in the short term but that, in the long run, it decreases affordability, fuels gentrification and creates "negative spillovers" onto surrounding neighborhoods, citing a 2018 Brookings Institute study. 

Rachel Beck with the Colorado Competitive Council acknowledged the affordable housing shortage of some 225,000 units, equivalent to the entire housing stock of El Paso County. The solution to the crisis is to build more affordable housing, she said. 

Muriel Williams of the Colorado Association of Realtors agreed. Controlling the housing market through rent control is a disincentive to build more homes, she said, adding that Proposition 123 will not reach its full potential if local jurisdictions begin adopting artificial rent limits that worsen the housing crisis. The ballot initiative, which Colorado voters approved last year, reduces taxpayer refunds arising from the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights by about $300 million per year, with the revenue going to a variety of affordable housing initiatives.

Dominion Apartments, which owns and manages 1,500 affordable housing apartments across the state — with another 500 in the development pipeline — will not be able to continue with its efforts if the bill passes as written, according to Sarah Shambrook. The company's residents are teachers, first responders, single parents, retail workers and retired seniors, she said. The bill would lead to "potentially dangerous and hasty municipal codes, creating blanket rent control policies" and ultimately hurting the potential for more affordable housing, she told the committee. 

Andrew Hamrick, general counsel for the Colorado Apartment Association, added that the problem with localized rent control is that it allows one locality to use price controls to hurt the housing prices of its neighbors. It also risks conversion of existing rental housing into owner-occupied housing and discourages resident mobility because people can't afford to move when they live in artificially low rent units, he said.

While much of Proposition 123 deals with purchasing affordable housing, it incudes significant provisions on rent, including an affordable housing equity program for low- and middle-income, multi-family rental units that provides tenants with a share of the development's profits that can be used for the future purchase of a home, as well as a rental assistance program.

But the housing that could come from Proposition 123 are years away for many — and many of those who showed up at the Capitol on Wednesday said they can't wait, recounting their struggles to lawmakers: Some face eviction. Some fear their children will be taken away because they can't provide separate bedrooms for their sons and daughters, a legal requirement once their children reach a certain age. Others work multiple jobs with too many roommates. Many lamented the lack of dignity they face for living in "a failed system." The dream of a home for many has never existed, they said. For others, the constant fear of losing their homes to high rent prices is "a nightmare."

The Colorado Fiscal Institute claims "greedy corporate landlords" are responsible for the high prices, citing studies that show the lowest income groups shoulder the heaviest burden on housing costs, meaning they pay more than 50% of their income for housing. CFI, whose data shows the lack of affordable housing is a problem in every corner of the state, also pointed out that the Department of Local Affairs has given out $456 million in emergency rental assistance in just the past two years.

Velasco, the legislator from Glenwood Springs, spoke of the challenges for residents on the Western Slope, including first responders, some of whom have to commute 70 miles from home to work.

"When people can't live where they work, it literally puts our lives at risk," she said. 

And she's caught in the housing squeeze, too. Velasco lives with her parents.

"It's not my first choice, but given the lack of affordable housing in the valley, it's essentially my only choice," she said.

For Mabrey, housing is a human right.

"There is no silver bullet when it comes to the housing crisis, but rent stabilization will help stabilize our communities and prevent gentrification," said Mabrey, an attorney for the Community Economic Defense Project, which has worked on evictions and which hired lobbyists to advocate for the bill. 

Many testified about recent rent increases of 40% or 50% or more.

Annmarie Jensen, who runs Boulder COunty's East County Housing Opportunity Coalition, spoke of what happened to residents after the Marshall fire and how older resident who had lived in Old Superior for decades were priced out. 

"The business case for high rents was more important than having a roof over their heads," she said.

Elected officials from counties and municipalities across the state also asked for rent control as part of a package of tools that will help people in their communities. They included Denver City Council members Robin Kniech and Candi CdeBaca; Denver mayoral candidate Ean Thomas Tafoya; Loveland Mayor Jackie Marsh; and, Commerce City Mayor Pro tem Jennifer Allen-Thomas, who told the committee city officials have been "working overtime to ensure that renters have a safe and stable place to call home but we don’t have all the tools we need."

HB 1115 will provide an additional tool to "ensure that renters aren’t pushed out of the city due to unreasonable rent increases,” she said.  

There has to be a better way, added Aydette Harris, who has three kids and lives in low-income housing. Harris noted the law requires that boys and girls have separate rooms once they reach a certain age and she lives in fear that Social Services would take her kids away from her.

"I'm at the whim of an unstable housing system," she said, adding that her family has had to move after living around what she described as unsafe neighbors and abusive managers who threatened eviction. 

"For good people, life shouldn't be so scary," she said.

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