The 2022 state legislative session saw the largest investment in affordable housing that has ever been made in Colorado, with $428 million approved in funding and five bipartisan bills passed that target different aspects of the statewide affordable housing crisis.
On Monday, Alison George, the state director of housing, led an affordable housing discussion at the Avon Public Library, meeting with residents, local government officials, and nonprofits to highlight the opportunities presented by these new bills. George is visiting towns across Colorado to give this presentation as part of the state’s Division of Housing 2022 Summer Engagement and Outreach tour.
Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat who is the chair of the Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force, and state Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, co-led the presentation with George, sharing the ways that they have advocated for the needs of rural mountain communities throughout the legislative session.
A generational investment
The American Rescue Plan Act gave the state of Colorado over $500 million to address the housing needs of communities impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency. While housing has been a top priority in Colorado for many years, the flow of federal dollars is enabling the state to go big with its affordable housing initiatives, creating what George described as a “generational investment” that will have a noticeable impact on the housing landscape for decades to come.
One of the main bills that George highlighted is HB22-1304, which allocates $178 million in grant money for housing developments and initiatives. Local governments and nonprofit community partners will be able to apply for grants to fund impactful projects, and all of the funds need to be distributed by the end of 2024, as required by the American Rescue Plan Act. The grant applications will open this fall, and the state division of housing will be in charge of administering the grants.
Roberts was a prime sponsor on the bill, and advocated for an additional stipulation that guarantees that 50% of the funding will be reserved for use by rural and rural resort communities through 2023. At the end of 2023, any unspent funds will return to the general pool, though Roberts said he is confident that rural communities will be able to find use for the full 50%. George encouraged local entities in Eagle County to begin preparing for the grant application process now, to attract the funding while it is available.
Some attendees at Monday’s community meeting expressed concerns about having the time, talent and funding to support extensive grant writing to gain access to the funds, but George said that HB22-1304 also provides financial support for the grant writing process, to even out the playing field for smaller communities that don’t keep a grant writer on staff. The state is also enhancing its technical guide for affordable housing to help communities better understand the development process and the myriad of resources that are available to them.
Another large influx of cash will come from the new $150 million revolving loan fund created by SB22-159. This money will provide low-interest and below-market-rate loan funding for proposed projects, and is available to for-profit private developers in addition to local governments and nonprofits.
All of this state money puts the decisions about where and what to develop in the hands of local actors, and Eagle County is well poised to access funding with its nine Bold Housing Moves programs already active in the community. The funding also expands opportunities to approve new developments and can leverage the private-public partnerships that are actively being sought out by the county’s housing district authority.
In addition to these more general-use funds, there are a number of bills targeting specific housing issues that have become prominent in the state. SB22-160 has established a $35 million loan program to assist, protect and preserve mobile home parks and their residents, while HB22-1287 is expanding state protections for residents that make it more difficult for landowners to raise rents, sell to outside buyers or evict homeowners, among other programs.
HB22-1282 allocates $40 million for the creation and implementation of an Innovative Housing Initiative Program, which will encourage the use and execution of modular construction in the state. Modular homes speed up the construction process, a factor that is critical in mountain communities where the available time frame for construction is limited to the summer months.
On top of the $428 million in affordable housing funds, the state is also spending $105 million to create a grant program for responding to homelessness in Colorado. The money will finance affordable rent and ownership assistance, recovery programs, education and work opportunities, and many other proven strategies for reducing homelessness.
All of the housing legislation passed in the 2022 legislative session can be accessed in detail at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs website. Visit cdola.colorado.gov for more information.