Colorado considers allowing local rent control amid crisis

A housing development under construction at the intersection of Syracuse Street and Colfax Avenue on the Denver/Aurora border. Many in the area say new, more expensive housing developments are driving rent increases. State lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow local municipalities to enact rent controls. Rental property association officials say it would not fix the problem of unaffordable rents.

DENVER  |  In a vast hall at Colorado’s Capitol building on Wednesday, Mary Bashor’s voice quavered as she described the terror she felt of possibly being pushed from her home of 28 years due to rent increases.

“My greatest fear is that I will have to leave my home I love, which is filled with memories of my deceased daughter and family. That would kill me,” Bashor said through Zoom during a committee meeting on a bill addressing rent control.

After Colorado’s housing prices ratcheted up to crisis levels, Democratic lawmakers are considering a drastic measure: repealing the state’s 1981 ban on rent control and allowing local towns and counties to pass their own caps on rents.

If approved, Colorado would join a group of states, including California and New York, that have some level of statewide or local rent control. While the bill would not install statewide rent control, the goal is to give communities the power to dampen rent increases after the state’s median home price rose by 40% — nearing $600,000 — since the beginning of 2020, according to the rental platform Zillow.

Even though Democrats hold majorities in both state chambers in Colorado, the legislation faces an uphill battle.

Critics argue that rent control dissuades developers from building more units, strangling housing supply and driving up rent in adjacent neighborhoods.

“We understand why these policies look attractive,” said Ted Leighty, CEO of the Colorado Association of Home Builders, in the committee hearing. “But this policy is a false idol. We need more supply. Period.”

Even Colorado’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, has opposed similar measures in the past and could veto the bill if it gets passed in both the House and Senate.

“Governor Polis is skeptical that rent control will create more housing stock, and locations with these policies often have the unintended consequences of higher rent,” his spokesperson Katherine Jones said in a statement.

The legislation could be amended or watered down to appease the governor as it works its way through the legislature.

The bill is one of several housing affordability measures the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature is considering this year, including opening up state-owned land for affordable housing developments.

“Almost every issue we debate here in the Legislature comes back to housing because it’s the most basic of human needs,” said Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, a Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, during the committee hearing on her rent control bill.

In the Senate, the bill only has one sponsor and might find a cooler welcome than in the House.

“I don’t think anyone thinks this policy is the only solution; I think it’s a way to provide relief,” said Democratic Senate President Steve Fenberg, adding, “I think it’ll be a good discussion.”

Construction worker Jimmy Velasco, who lives in Fort Collins, a city north of Denver, testified at the hearing that 60% of his salary went toward keeping a roof over his wife’s and three kids’ heads.

As their rent rose with lease renewals, his wife started cleaning to bring in an extra paycheck — money that ended up going to pay childcare while both parents worked during the day.

After turning to foodbanks and local churches for support, Velasco and his family decided to move.

“We had to think if we wanted to eat or have a place to live,” he said.


Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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1 month ago

I’m not sure rent control is an answer.

1 month ago

I’m pretty sure that, especially combined with public housing, it is not. Google Cabrini Greens.