CO lawmakers finally confront state’s housing crunch
DENVER — Proposals to tackle Colorado’s skyrocketing housing costs have finally been proposed in the state Legislature. But lawmakers don’t have much time to settle on complicated measures to expand affordable housing.
Housing was a top priority for both Democrats and Republicans this year, but lawmakers have been haggling behind closed doors for months on the specifics. Democrats have pressed for tax credits and other incentives to help people afford homes. Republicans have been pushing to make it harder for homeowners to sue builders for construction defects, which in theory could prompt more construction.
Steady job growth has attracted a stream of millennials to Colorado and made Denver the nation’s fifth-strongest housing market, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.
Democrats tried Thursday to salvage the effort to do something about affordable housing this year.
A House committee approved three Democratic proposals to boost affordable housing. One would use $40 million from the state’s “unclaimed property” fund and use the money for rent vouchers and other assistance for the needy.
Another measure would give create new tax-free accounts for savers who haven’t yet bought a home. They could save up to $14,000 a year and get tax cuts between $27 and $46 each year, as long as they use the money to buy a home.
The final bill would extend an existing Colorado low-income housing tax credit through 2019.
Most Republicans voted against all three proposals. Some argued that money could be better spent on schools. Others said the measures were simply too significant to properly consider in less than a week. The lawmaking term ends for the year next Wednesday.
“I’m kind of surprised this is the nature of the game at the end of session,” said Republican Rep. Perry Buck of Greeley.
A long struggle to agree on a homebuilder liability changes appeared to end in failure Thursday, when homeowners’ groups said talks stalled. Developers and homeowners’ groups couldn’t agree on changing rules for suing builders for faulty construction.
“I’m disappointed we weren’t able to come up with a compromise,” said Jonathan Harris, a Denver condo owner and president of the homeowners’ advocacy group Build Our Homes Right.
The gridlock has lasted several years now in Colorado and has prompted 11 cities — including Denver and Colorado Springs — to take action to change homebuilder liability.
Democratic leaders insisted hope is not lost that significant affordable-housing proposals could make it to the governor’s desk this year. Some 160,000 households spend more than half their monthly income on rent or housing, according to the state Division of Housing.
“We need to figure out how to deal with this issue of people not having anywhere to live,” said Democratic Rep. Max Tyler of Lakewood.
Sales of new homes nationwide accelerated sharply in 2015, the U.S. Commerce Department has reported. Americans rushed to buy new homes, with 2015 marking the strongest year for this segment of the housing market since 2007.
Homebuilders have increased construction, but that doesn’t necessarily mean affordability has followed. Only 19 percent of new-home sales were below $200,000 in 2015, a decrease from 23 percent in 2014, according to real estate firm Trulia.
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt
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