The 2021 Colorado General Assembly reconvened Tuesday, following its second historic and unprecedented pandemic-related hiatus. The first time the pandemic forced the Assembly to take a break, it reconvened on Memorial Day to pass a budget and a police accountability bill in response to the deaths of persons of color at the hands of police. That done, legislators wisely got out of town, adjourning on June 15. It’s said there were many lawmakers in tears that day over important 2020 legislation that had to be laid aside for the future.
This year, the Assembly convened on time while the pandemic was in full roar, rushed through some pandemic-related work, and adjourned. Then, with infections and hospitalizations falling, they reconvened on Tuesday. Making up for lost time, in a single day, the two houses together introduced 221 bills. This Assembly has cut its work out. It will be exciting to see what it can accomplish.
Thursday I spoke with our own Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis. You can watch our interview on my YouTube, here. (Hint: subscribing to my channel is a great way to get notified promptly about more Capitol Conversations with our state legislators.) Between topics, we discussed how hard everyone is working, trying to make up for lost time. When we talked, no bills were ready to be introduced. But 221 were introduced on the first day back in session. That’s some hard work.
With 221 new bills (and more to come) there should be something for everyone. But today let’s look at some bills that could be especially meaningful to Longmont.
The right to a roof
It’s hard to argue that Longmont doesn’t have a shortage of affordable housing — no matter what your definition of “affordable” may be. Longmont is a desirable community to live in, and is acquiring a national reputation for all sorts of reasons ranging from our exemplary management of the recovery after the flood of 2013, to our low-cost and high-speed fiber internet service, to our exceptional craft breweries and distilleries. Who wouldn’t want to live in a city like ours — even if it didn’t nestle in the shadow of the magnificent Rocky Mountains?
It’s a real struggle for our city planners and city council to regulate land use and permitting to try to keep wealthier would-be Longmont residents from bidding up the price of houses and apartments, freezing out the less affluent. It’s important for our quality of life that working families who already live here, or should live here because of the work they do here, can afford a decent place to live. A city’s housing inventory needs to be a ladder, with a first step that anyone can reach, and rungs for every stage of life.
A lot of people don’t know that Colorado law prohibits “rent control.” When, in 2018, Longmont City Council was working on an affordable housing ordinance, it was fairly easy to get the results we wanted for housing destined for sale. But we hit constraints putting together a way to keep rental units within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development definition of affordability without violating Colorado law. Our Inclusionary Housing Ordinance requires a “deed restriction” on affordable rentals, but the contents of the deed restriction is defined by regulation, not statute.
Now, House Bill 21-1117 Local Government Authority (to) Promote Affordable Housing Units promises to return some local control to municipalities to regulate land use and housing in support of affordability. Without fear of violating Colorado’s laws on rent control, cities like Longmont would be able to adopt more creative, less cumbersome ways to balance our housing inventory and make sure that some housing stays affordable for our lowest-income residents. I strongly support this idea. So does the University of Colorado Law Review. Local control is Colorado’s future.
Losing housing, especially when there’s a shortage of alternatives, is another looming horror for households living paycheck to paycheck. Colorado also is known for having some of the weakest tenant’s rights protections in the USA. House Bill 21-1121 Residential Tenancy Procedures would start to fix that. It increases the notice periods landlords must give before starting eviction procedures, prohibits a landlord’s attorney from serving a summons to an eviction hearing, and limits the number of times rent may be increased in a year. It also prohibits delivering notices to quit by posting them on the property, but requires good service just as for any other civil action. These are basic protections, but it’s a start.
I will be looking for legislation that addresses the backlog of rent deficits that have built up during the pandemic eviction moratorium. Let’s hope it’s there, somewhere in that pile of 221 new bills.
In ordinary times, anyone can go to the Capitol and watch the Legislature work and debate. Anyone may speak their mind on a bill being heard in committee. This year, that’s not possible, of course. But the Legislature has made provisions for remote participation.
The House, Senate and committees are available by streaming video online here: http://leg.colorado.gov/watch-listen. Here are the instructions on how to sign up for remote testimony. The General Assembly is doing the people’s business. Good governance happens when we make it our own.
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