Howard: Advocating for change at the state level

Elyse Howard
Valley Voices

The 2022 legislative session was one of the most impactful I have seen. The state budget was bolstered by a one-time investment from the American Rescue Act Plan. The $3.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated to our state are a once-in-a-generation investment in Colorado. The investment will transform lives of Coloradans.

Roughly 650 pieces of legislation were introduced at the Capitol. Of those, Habitat for Humanity worked closely on six we felt would be most impactful to increase affordable housing options for Coloradans.

We have a massive housing supply problem in the United States — an estimated 5 million housing units short. While I worry about this staggering shortfall, I am excited to be in this moment where government, nonprofits and communities are coming together to create lasting, positive, transformational change to increase housing stock. State leaders allocated $400 million of ARPA funds for housing projects, with dedicated funds for rural areas like Eagle County that are most impacted by the housing crisis.

The State Transformational Housing Task Force started the discussion last year. It is a bipartisan panel of legislators, housing experts and local officials that were tasked with taking a deep dive into the housing needs statewide with the goal to provide policy recommendations on how to best use the $400 million in ARPA funding allocated for housing.

Habitat for Humanity catapulted into action, creating a coalition of home ownership organizations from across the state. This is the first of its kind — bringing together land trusts, nonprofits, government agencies and other shared equity ownership groups with the purpose of advocating for home ownership.

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As we all know, home ownership is important to building a strong community and for families to build wealth and stability. Combine a severe housing shortage with the steep rise in inflation and low- to middle-wage earners are unable to gain traction to move into the housing market.

HB22-1304, known as “State Grants Investments Local Affordable Housing,” sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts, is a direct result of the Task Force. Habitat Vail Valley and Habitat Colorado were very much in support of this bill and I was able to testify in favor of this bill.

HB22-1304 is unprecedented in that it provides $178 million in grant funding for nonprofits and local governments. This grant program will help nonprofit housing developers like Habitat to accelerate our construction pace and fill the gap between what it costs to build and the maximum affordable sales price. Building permanently affordable homes requires a subsidy — building costs, labor and materials have increased significantly. On average it takes approximately a $100,000 subsidy to build each affordable for-sale home across the state. HB1304 is key to decreasing the state’s housing shortage.

HB22-1117, known as “Use of Local Lodging Tax Revenue,” is promising because it gives local governments the ability to redistribute funds from lodging taxes “for activities related to workforce recruitment, management, and development housing.” Until now, there has not been an affordable housing development fund — this is how we got so far behind in the first place.

SB22-159 “Revolving Loan Fund Invest Affordable Housing,” creates a $150 million revolving loan fund program for affordable housing. The low-interest loans will allow affordable home developers the chance to do more and build more.

Finally, HB22-1282, “The Innovative Housing Incentive Program,” provides grants and loans for “innovative forms” of affordable housing, including modular housing. The goal is to have more homes ready faster, with a smaller price tag. We have watched this bill closely primarily because after more than a year of research, we’re moving forward with a modular project on a parcel of land on Eagle’s Third Street donated by Eagle County School District. We are committed to bringing innovation to the affordable home-building process.

These bills are testament that — together — we can be part of the change that will positively impact our community.

I’m proud to be involved in helping make a difference for hardworking locals in Eagle County. Bold initiatives like these take a commitment of time and dollars. Affordable housing is a worthwhile investment for our community. I am excited to be an advocate of these once-in-a-generation efforts to make long-term, positive transformational changes to housing at the community and state levels.

Do you want to do or learn more? Reach out to our elected leaders. They want to hear how to help make life here in Eagle County more attainable. Send me a note, I am happy to talk housing any time. Together we will find ways to innovate and collaborate to make a bigger impact on our community.

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