Colorado’s housing shortage will get much worse if legislative Democrats get their way. They want a new law that will harm low-wage earners who struggle to find homes.

To get less of something, impose regulations and costs. To get more of something, reduce regulations and costs. It is a simple, proven, time-tested matter of cause and effect. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has shown this with deregulatory measures to help businesses survive the hardships of COVID-19, inspiring accolades from a group of conservative economists.

In Colorado, we desperately need more rental housing for those who cannot buy. The dearth of rentals has priced them out of reach for too many young adults and low-wage earners of all generations. One-bedroom apartments and studios in Colorado Springs begin at about $1,400. Colorado cities consistently show up high on lists of the country’s more expensive rental markets.

To get more rental housing, the Colorado Legislature and Polis should find ways to eliminate disincentives to those who might otherwise build or acquire properties to offer on lease. Instead, the Legislature plans to go in the opposite direction.

House Bill 1332 would force landlords to participate in the federal government’s Section 8 housing program, which helps pay rent for qualifying low-income or no-income individuals and families. The bill would force landlords to participate in any other rental assistance programs a prospective tenant might use to pay the rent. It will, beyond question, run property owners out of the rental business.

On the surface, this seems like a great way to ensure more housing for low-income residents and that would be a good thing. All humans should have safe homes. For the right landlords and tenants, Section 8 and other assistance programs are a good fit.

Contracting with the government to house a tenant has traditionally been voluntary and should stay that way. Section 8, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, imposes an authoritarian third party into what would otherwise be a two-party contract for housing.

HUD is not a silent partner that sends a check. The agency inspects properties before Section 8 tenants move in and often makes demands the landlord might not agree to with a self-paying tenant. HUD conducts annual inspections of the homes, often imposing unexpected and arbitrary costs on property owners.

A long list of inspection standards includes “thermal environment.” While a self-paying tenant might be fine with a home lacking air conditioning, the government might demand a landlord improve the thermal conditions for a Section 8 tenant. Other standards include “space and security,” “food preparation and refuse disposal,” “interior air quality,” and more. The list empowers HUD to demand almost anything of a landlord.

Most housing assistance programs require landlords to grant housing authorities access to their bank accounts.

“The standards are excessive and requiring an owner or landlord to bring every unit up to those standards will be incredibly costly,” said Karen Santee, president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Association of Rental Property Managers.

Reducing mandates on Section 8 tenants would be a sure way to get more of them. As it stands, a significant percentage of property owners have no interest in a contractual relationship with HUD or other federal or state agencies.

“Participants in the program are not held responsible for damages or unpaid rent,” Santee said. “The programs will not remove a participant for failing to comply with a landlord’s contract or for leaving a property with excessive property damage or monies owed to the landlord or owner.”

The Legislature pushes this bill as landlords struggle to survive the costs of COVID-19, which led Denver and other jurisdictions to relieve tenants from monthly rental payments. Regardless of income, tenants can simply refuse to pay the rent and the landlord has no good recourse.

Few politicians can resist the deceptive political optics of new rules that favor tenants over “big bad landlords” who collect the rent. They count on the public to never connect the dots when these policies reduce the rental stock.

Be assured, this proposed mandate to commandeer control of private property will only hurt those who struggle to put roofs over their heads. The politicians who want this don’t care what the bill would do. They care what it looks like on the surface. If this bill passes, Gov. Polis should veto it with fanfare in defense of Coloradans who need homes.

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