AURORA | State legislators from the Aurora area brought forward a pair of bills that could make it easier to build affordable housing and remove other barriers to shared living arrangements last week via a controversial overhaul of the state’s land use code.
Endorsed by Gov. Jared Polis and state Democrats, the changes would compel cities to allow the construction of multifamily housing, including more “missing middle” products like townhomes and duplexes.
“We need more homes for rent and for purchase near where jobs are, not further and further out with more cars on the road, more traffic and more air quality problems.,” Polis told the Sentinel last week. “In California, there are cities with average home prices above a million dollars, and there are 16-lane freeways that are bumper-to-bumper for eight hours a day. We want to avoid that fate.”
While many progressives have applauded the bill as a potential path toward more affordable housing, others have characterized it as misguided and an affront to Colorado’s history of leaving zoning decisions in the hands of local governments.
“I strongly believe that we need greater density in housing to make it more affordable, so I agree with the direction that the Governor wants to go, but I think it should be through (providing) incentives to local governments instead of a mandate that usurps local control,” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said in a statement.
The Senate bill would require larger cities, including Aurora, and “rural resort job centers” such as Aspen and Breckenridge to accommodate middle housing products, and would eliminate occupancy caps that distinguish between related and unrelated co-tenants. A sister bill in the House would do away with caps on housing development, including the growth caps introduced by Boulder, Lakewood and Golden.
State Rep. Iman Jodeh, a Democratic Aurora legislator and House prime sponsor of the Senate bill, said the measure would protect workforce housing in Aurora as well as various housing options for people in different stages of life.
She told the story of an elderly woman in her district suffering from arthritis who wanted to sell her multi-story home but couldn’t find a single-story housing unit close to her mosque.
“This speaks to being in the communities that we want to live in. But the stock is so low for main-floor living, and what is there is completely unaffordable,” Jodeh said. “I think this bill is what’s going to maintain the integrity and vibrancy of Aurora.”
Both bills have been introduced in their respective chambers and are awaiting further action.
Like many Colorado communities, Aurora is grappling with a shortage of affordable housing. Housing prices across the Denver metropolitan area have crept upward since the early 2010s, threatening to undermine Aurora’s status as a diverse, working-class community.
In late 2020, a report on Aurora’s housing market commissioned by the city indicated residents needed an income of more than $50,000 per year to afford the average rent,
which was about $10,000 more than the average renter actually made.
The same report said the city would need more than 10,200 units of affordable housing to meet the needs of households earning less than $20,000 per year, in light of the pandemic. But the problem predated the pandemic — in 2017, the city was found to be short about 7,500 units for renters earning less than $25,000 per year.
Several hundred people are also believed to be homeless in the city, with the 2022 point-in-time survey undertaken on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pegging the number at 612. The point-in-time survey is generally believed to be an undercount.
Though Aurora is more densely developed than many Colorado cities, the 2020 report identified an unmet need for “missing middle” housing in the city. Missing middle housing includes development such as townhomes, row houses and courtyard apartments, which are denser than single-family homes but are perceived as belonging in low-density neighborhoods.
Small-lot homes, defined as lots covering fewer than 5,000 square feet, are another middle housing product. Compared to the entire Denver metro area, Aurora had fewer small-lot homes for sale between 2016 and 2017, with those units making up just 8% of all homes for sale compared to 11% of homes for sale in the region overall and 26% of homes for sale in Denver.
Promoting the development of middle housing is one of the goals of Senate Bill 23-213. The state would be directed to draft a model code that would clear the way for middle housing to be built wherever single-family homes are allowed in large cities such as Aurora and in rural resort job centers.
Even if one of those communities decides not to adopt the model code, they would still be expected to stay out of the way of builders. The community would have to allow middle housing as a use by right in certain areas and not enforce local laws that restrict middle housing more aggressively than single-family detached homes. The changes would not apply to counties.
Related to the topic of middle housing are so-called Accessory Dwelling Units — smaller, independent dwellings located on the same property as a single-family home. The measure would also require the state to draft a model ADU code allowing the units wherever single-family homes are allowed, and municipalities would have to either adopt the code or equivalent zoning rules.
Other parts of the bill would promote multifamily housing along key transit corridors in large cities such as Aurora and rural resort job centers, and cities like Aurora would be required to allow multifamily housing within a half-mile of train stations.
The bill also prohibits the enforcement of occupancy limits that differ based on the relationship between co-tenants, which means Aurora may be blocked from enforcing its rule that no more than four unrelated people may share a housing unit.
A slim majority of council members rejected a proposal to temporarily raise the limit to six in 2020, when Gov. Jared Polis asked cities to loosen their rules in an attempt to reduce the number of evictions and ease the economic burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cities would also be expected to put together a housing-needs plan that would include strategies for preserving and promoting affordable housing. As a larger city with a rail station, Aurora would be expected to commit to at least three strategies approved by the state to address the creation and preservation of affordable housing. $15 million in state funds would be set aside during the upcoming fiscal year to help with planning statewide.
A related piece of legislation, House Bill 23-1255, would strike down artificial limits imposed by cities such as Boulder, Lakewood and Golden on how much residential construction can take place. In Boulder, the expansion of the city’s housing stock is limited to 1% per year.
Aurora Councilmember Juan Marcano said he believed sprawling development was one of the dangers facing Aurora and said he supported the bill as a way of welcoming the construction of denser, missing middle housing.
“It’s just a much wiser land use strategy overall,” he said. “And it’s not just us, but a general, major flaw in contemporary North American urban planning is the sprawl and the car-dependent pattern of suburban development.”
He said that Aurora was in a better position than many cities because it has a housing strategy and because city staffers are already working on cleaning up parts of the Unified Development Ordinance in a way that is “in harmony” with the Senate bill.
Marcano argued that less dense development uses up more water, contributes to the city’s infrastructure backlog and drives air pollution by requiring residents drive from place to place. Jodeh, too, said she believed the bill would have an impact beyond more people being housed.
“This is more than just a Band-Aid on something that hasn’t been addressed since the ’70s,” Jodeh said. “It’s not just a housing bill. It’s about conservation. It’s about making sure people are healthy. It’s about making sure we have access to affordable, quality, equitable housing.”
Others were less enthusiastic about the state’s pivot away from giving local governments the final say in zoning choices. Aurora’s mayor questioned in a statement why the governor and the legislature weren’t waiting so they could fully gauge the effects of Proposition 123, which will steer statewide tax money toward affordable housing.
“I think that there is a value to having residents being able to give input to their locally elected officials on planning and zoning matters,” Coffman said. “Again, I agree we have a problem with housing affordability, and I put forward a proposal for Aurora to opt into (Proposition) 123, and we are the first city to do so.”
CEO Ted Leighty of the Colorado Association of Home Builders said his organization thought the roadmap included in the bill for making more multifamily projects use-by-right included good ideas.
He said the organization also plans to advocate for amendments that would lighten the burden of report-drafting for local governments and prevent cities from blocking developments that don’t adhere to granular design guidelines.
But Leighty argued that the viability of multifamily housing and the success of the bill will be limited as long as Colorado maintains its construction defect laws, which developers say make it too risky to build condominiums in the state.
“It’ll never achieve its full potential without also further reforming construction litigation and liability issues, where everyone from design to finishing and in between can be potentially sued,” he said.
In terms of how the zoning landscape limits development currently, he described how fitting a multifamily project into a neighborhood of single-family homes can pose major challenges for developers, who have to manage opposition from so-called NIMBYs and wade through development processes that may take years.
“It’s a huge problem to try to get a zoning change, for sure. We’ve got places like Westminster, where it took one developer five years to entitle a piece of dirt, because others thought they had their own right to this existing empty space, where they like to watch the sunset,” Leighty said.
“That’s what this bill is trying to get at, in some regards, is how do we remove these obstacles for local governments … to be able to approve good uses of land for good housing opportunities for all Coloradans to be able to share in.”
Though his organization has yet to take a formal position on the changes to growth caps, he said he was tentatively encouraged by the news.
Kevin Bommer — executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, an advocacy group representing 270 municipalities across the state — referred to the land use changes as a “breathtaking power grab” in a news release.
The release said inflation and workforce shortages were major contributors to the housing problem, and Bonner further dismissed the proposed system of the state promulgating model codes and cities having to adopt the codes or at least follow some of the minimum requirements identified in those codes as a “California-style, top-down approach.”
“Unlike California or Oregon, Colorado has (a) rich tradition of local control and constitutional home rule, the latter of which cannot be legislated away,” Bommer said.
“If either of those foundational principles still mean anything to legislators, we expect they will reject this legislation and throw their support behind partnering with the bill’s proponents and local governments to tackle affordability issues together.”
When asked about the bill eroding local control over zoning decisions, Jodeh said Colorado’s current development patterns were causing problems of their own, and arguing that it was “time for a change.”
“We have seen unbelievable unsustainable sprawl in Colorado that has affected not only the cost of housing but also the lack of access to transportation, the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink,” she said.
“The status quo is not working.”
Of course, socialists Jodeh and Marcano are in full-throat support to turn the metro area into a mobility-restricted concrete jungle and Colorado into a government-run Utopian-nightmare nanny state.
One of my favorite things about your dying ideology is the use of “socialism” or “woke” for anything you don’t like. It gives you away and alienates more and more people every time you say it. Keep it up. I really appreciate it.
I love that my calling out the woke and socialistic gets your attention. I appreciate your support, and will continue, as requested. May even point out your Marxist tendencies on occasion.
Sort of like your side’s use of “fascism” for anything you don’t like. It gives you away and alienates more and more people every time you say it. Keep it up. I really appreciate it.
I am no expert on housing density, but if those that are in the business of constructing housing believe that they can make a higher profit off of muti housing rather than single family homes, I don’t mind. My guess is that if that industry didn’t think this was in their best interest financially, then it wouldn’t happen.
Coffman/Aurora Council need to show they can do something about housing affordability before they complain about this legislation. I haven’t seen any success yet.
The rest of the state shouldn’t have to suffer for the Front Range’s lack of foresight.
Did anyone ask Mayor Coffman what he thought the “incentives” might be/look like? as in concrete suggestions that are actionable? If he has nothing, then it’s more word salad.
Oh, I’m sure little Mikey has lots of ideas for
kickbacks– I mean incentives for his buddies.
Adam Smith,The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II
I love that the state is stepping in. Local control of land use and land developers are what got us here. It’s time for a change.
No, encouraging hundreds of thousands of people to move to the Denver metro, both from inside and outside the country, without knowing how you’re going to provide housing for them all is what got us here. Putting the same dingdongs in charge of housing codes for the entire state will result in equally stupid, short-sighted decisions.
Sounds a bit like Aurora’s Transit Oriented Development Districts. Districts which did not take off when offered as developers saw no money in them and the consumer did not materialize. Maybe those were just ahead of their time.
Developers are always going to invest their money where they see the most profit. That leaves us with subsidies.
Of course, the hard core progressive, the ones, that always know what’s best what’s for thee. And here over everything, the politician tries his best to spout off, high density housing, something that everyone can’t get enough of. How disrespectful to people that have sacrificed their precious time to work hard to have their own little piece of sod. They just happen to not like to be packed in without a inch of privacy from the guy next door.
Anybody living in Aurora and expecting the “code” to be enforced, well think again. Trying to enforce the multi- family “code” no, it aint happing, and is a law only there as a symbol, what a fraud, another unenforced ordinance. Juan Marcano clearly has no idea how many people live and have overcrowded the housing in the city already, and thus negatively impacted these neighborhoods to the max. The cars now from neighbors have flooded over into their neighbors existing parking and now we have so many they are parking on lawns and take over in front of others houses. Now that’s some progress Juan, that’s what you are advocating more of.
“Aurora Councilmember Juan Marcano said he believed sprawling development was one of the dangers facing Aurora and said he supported the bill as a way of welcoming the construction of denser, missing middle housing. “It’s just a much wiser land use strategy overall” A true clueless councilman, and mayor wannabe.
“And it’s not just us, but a general, major flaw in contemporary North American urban planning is the sprawl and the car-dependent pattern of suburban development.” Spoken like a real predominant pack- them- in- like- sardines by forcing illegal land rezoning. This part of a global shift Marcano, and Gov. Polis, want to change how we choose our size of house and neighborhood standards. Aurora city hall/ water dept specifically has demonstrated, and proved already they are without any ability to furnish reliable water to its citizens. Juan, how bout something worthwhile like getting serious about the water.
The neighborhood public streets around the Cherry Creek Shopping center have become a metered parking by permit. How bout that. The high density build outs by the shopping center have swallowed up any parking spots. So neighbors were parking overnight in the shopping center, no other place to park. Then the shopping center had to make it pay for parking to keep their own places available. But, Juan Marcano, wants to make Aurora more like this, with his high density. This is what happens when we have law makers that know how Paris weather is walking done the street for a pastry in the summer but clueless to ever read the local news.
Never mind the willful ignorance of how density creates urban heat islands and impenetrable concrete surfaces of parking lots. Sprawl is just a pejorative term for elbow room. Humans are not hamsters.
Also, do not forget the ultimate goal of Marcano and crew is to make owning a car prohibitively painful. When you have to depend on another for your mobility, it’s not really mobility.
From my experience, more density ends up meaning that when a house in your neighborhood is sold, developers buy it, demolish it, and create condos. It completely changes the character of your neighborhood, and makes it a perpetual construction zone. If the state supersedes local government, I am not sure we will even have a nominal voice in the process. Moreover, when our building was shaking like there was an earthquake, and I called 411 to ask how to get help, I was told that I had to wait until the construction damaged the building and then sue the developer to have it fixed. I was constantly treated like I was hysterical, until after I moved out and a few months later the roof collapsed. It is not clear to me what owning a home is for, since you really don’t have rights to protections from other construction, and now laws are making this state wide.
The pretense of this bill is that the same people who failed to exercise any future-time orientation when they were encouraging hundreds of thousands of people to move to Colorado since the Great Recession, will suddenly gain this capability simply because a law is passed. If the current crop of dingdongs in the state bureaucracy and state legislature weren’t the ones directing this, that would be one thing, but these are emotionally stunted, overgrown children with more credentials and unwarranted self-regard than wisdom.
If you want a glimpse of what density and unfettered development look like, visit the neighborhoods that surround downtown Dallas. Aside from a few carve-outs for the ultra-wealthy neighborhoods, local housing charm is lost as homes are routinely razed and replaced with zero-lot-line-to-lot line multifamily monstrosities.
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