Democratic state lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis are poised to make the desperate affordable housing situation stay about the same — or worse — with a catalog of well-meaning measures.

Amid great hoopla, Democrats and Polis last week unveiled a trove of measures that seek to push down the cost of apartment rents and homes for sale.

While some of the notions might be helpful, the underlying logic is flawed: State lawmakers can’t create one-size-fits all solutions to Colorado affordable housing woes. The foundation of the idea is anathema to good land-use and economics policy.

The series of bills seeks to force large metro cities, smaller towns and even the smallest Colorado bergs to allow more apartments, condos, townhomes and multiplex housing to be built.

The assumption is that the vast majority of municipalities preclude such projects.

You don’t have to travel far in Aurora to see that this town of almost 400,000 people took one of its many monikers as the “Land of the Three-Story Walk-up” for good reason. By design and practice, Aurora has grown, primarily, because it has offered little but affordable housing.

This is a city that has vast tracts of developable land, much of it zoned for high-density housing, water to support the projects and people to buy into it.

Still, rents and home prices are extraordinarily — un affordably — high here and across the metro area.

While the problem is complex, the most obvious force at work against affordability is supply and demand. Colorado, and especially its urban areas, have seen unprecedented growth in the past decade. A great place to live, raise families, find jobs and run a business, much of Colorado is a victim of its own success. It’s also a victim of global forces at play far beyond its control.

Primarily, however, growth has by far outpaced homebuilding, a dilemma made even worse during the pandemic.

While there are certainly things state and local governments can do to promote affordable housing, top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates on local land use is a recipe for immediate and long-term disaster.

Here are just a few of the obvious problems with this plan:

• It creates land-use mandates for municipalities, but not for contiguous counties. In the metro-plex, county and city boundaries are intertwined everywhere, and much unincorporated land is just as suited for high-density development.

• The measure ignores the fact that vast numbers of homes have been purchased by companies or people who don’t live in them, often with cash. There’s nothing to prevent commercial ventures from buying up triplexes and other high-density homes as well, keeping rents high and home ownership low.

• The measure, as proposed, would either disregard or even work against other legislation that prevents counties and cities from irresponsibly building any kind of homes without substantiating there are water resources to maintain it, even during droughts. Places such as Douglas County, heavily dependent on groundwater, should be limited in development and not encouraged.

• There appears to be no anticipation of unintended consequences, such as preventing cities averse to high-density housing from forcing it into industrial or undesirable parts of town, creating future ghettos.

• Requirements to allow what are essentially home-building on lots with existing homes, for structures like “mother-in-law” homes, could create disastrous problems if mandates supersede safe and sensible building codes. Especially in older areas where larger lots were the norm and best suited for such structures, aging water supplies, sewers and drainage are real concerns.

Some of the proposals from this package of bills certainly have merit.  Limitations of non-related tenants — rules often created with racist motivations — are unfair and unwise.

Also a push from the state to create communities less dependent on owning a car and making long commutes are important ideas. But those strategies cannot be successfully implemented without ensuring mass transit, schools, job market and other land-use features are weighed, considered and controlled.

We agree that both state and local governments should do something to press back against the market forces that have pushed the cost of living past sustainability, but the bulk of these measures are too illogical and impractical, especially in a state as drastically diverse as Colorado.

With so many critical issues facing an virtually overwhelmed general assembly and the clock ticking out on this session, Polis should call a special session on the housing conundrum, ensuring focus, transparency and the ability to carefully scrutinize and changes or recommendations adopted by the state.

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  1. 100% agree. The principles of Home Rule exist for a reason and the proposed changes absolutely reek of centralized authoritarian Fascism.

  2. Ah, central planning, a common foundational concept of the progressives at the statehouse, as well as socialists Marcano, Coombs, Murillo, and Medina here on our city council.

    They must have been encouraged by how they were able to destroy a complete segment of the housing stock through policies such as the construction defects legislation.

    These people do not believe property should be individually owned, plain and simple. And they will not rest until they have destroyed the very basis of property rights and handed all control to the government. But you will be happy, they say.

  3. The folks calling this an authoritarian or socialistic reform are completely off base. This reform would give property owners what should always have been their right to build what they want on their own property. There are no valid reasons for exlusionary residential zoning, except for bigotry and cowardice.

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