Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) A bill to lift the state preemption on local governments’ power to impose rent stabilization measures made it through its first committee on Wednesday after over eight hours of testimony from more than 100 witnesses.

House Bill 23-1115 won approval on an 8-5 vote in the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government committee. Democratic Rep. Alex Valdez of Denver joined Republicans in opposing the bill.

The bill would lift a decades-old state law that prohibits local governments from enacting rent-control measures and leave it up to cities and counties to pass any rent-control ordinances or resolutions for their areas.

“Colorado is in a housing crisis. Regardless of where we fall on any particular policy prescription, I think we can all agree that we have a housing crisis,” bill sponsor Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Denver Democrat, told committee members. “House Bill 23-1115 opens the door for new transformative solutions.”

Both Mabrey and co-sponsor Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, a Glenwood Springs Democrat, spoke about rent stabilization as just one of many tools needed to address the affordable housing problem in the state.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure that we are building more housing, but we also have to do something to stabilize renters. This is 40% of the state, and renters need relief now,” he said.

If passed, the bill would leave it up to local governments to enact their own policies. What Aurora might consider could look markedly different from what Grand Junction might take on.

“If you give us this local authority, we can really cater it to, for example, the urban areas of Denver differently than the resort mountain communities,” said Denver City Council member Robin Kniech, who testified in support of the measure.

The committee heard testimony from many renters across the state who said that their ever-increasing monthly rent impacts their ability to pay other bills or plan for the future.

Fanny Martinez, a mother of two who lives in Aurora, said that over half of her income goes towards her rent of $1,250. She supplements that income by renting the second room of her family’s apartment and relying on food banks for groceries.

“In the time that I’ve lived here, I haven’t been able to take my kids to do anything fun that children should get to experience. I can take them to the museum, zoo or go out to eat because my first priority is keeping them fed and housed. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to struggle so much to meet my basic needs,” she said.

Opponents of the legislation argue that rent control doesn’t work and has unintended consequences on the housing market.

“Allowing each municipality to decide rent control for themselves creates a patchwork of regulations across municipal lines and introduces artificial pressures on the housing market,” said Matt Gorenc, the government affairs manager with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Instead, he said, his organization supports policies that incentivize development, cut regulations and zoning restrictions and “embracing growth to support demand.”

The Colorado Legislature is set to consider dozens of bills related to housing this session, including one related to zoning policy that has been long hinted at but yet to be introduced.

There’s no reason that enabling cities to enact their own rent stabilization measures cannot work in tandem with other housing policies, some lawmakers asserted.

“We of course need more density, need more development, but we also need to help people now,” Velasco said.

The committee approved an amendment on Wednesday that sets various guidelines for the types of rent control local governments can enact.

Any ordinance would need to be uniformly applied to similarly-situated residents and properties. Additionally, there would be a 15-year window of exemption from rent stabilization for new developments. The amendment also sets a rent control floor, so there could not be a policy that limits rent increase to an amount less than the percentage increase in the consumer price index plus three percentage points.

The bill now heads to the entire House for consideration.