Creative Solutions for affordable housing shortages 

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Here’s a few ideas being floated by city and state officials that might make a dent in the affordable housing shortage:

The long shot:

Create a tiny-home village with permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless. Though Mayor John Suthers has historically been opposed to legal encampments of any kind, such a program may not be as far out of reach as you think. In early February, Suthers, along with Homelessness Prevention Coordinator Andrew Phelps and several city staff members and elected officials, met with Texan Joe Basel, a supporter of Austin’s Community First! Village, to discuss the possibility of implementing a similar model here. Austin’s village is a 51-acre site that will eventually accommodate more than 200 vulnerable people leaving homelessness. Micro-enterprise programs such as gardens, an art studio and auto shop allow residents to earn an income and pay rent. While discussions are still preliminary, city officials were intrigued by Austin’s example. Phelps plans to visit Community First! in May and research whether such a model could be viable here.

The city’s proposal:

Make it easier to add accessory dwelling units. ADUs, also known as in-law units, are secondary apartments on a residential lot or within the main home. They might be above a detached garage, in a converted attic or basement, or in a separate unit, and must include a sleeping area, bathroom and kitchen. Currently, city code allows the units within multi-family zones and some commercial areas, but a proposed ordinance would expand their use to single-family zones (though homeowners associations can choose to prohibit them). In these zones, integral (attached) ADUs would have to have an interior connection to the main home, and the property owner would be required to occupy either the ADU or the main home. Detached ADUs would also be allowed in single-family zones. City staff held a series of open houses on the proposed ordinance in February, and will present it to the planning commission and City Council for approval this spring, ideally in time for May implementation. Such units could theoretically provide affordable housing for aging parents, disabled or dependent adult children, or low-income renters.

The city’s ask:

Collect donations through a veteran housing incentive fund. The city’s 2019 Homelessness Initiative calls for creating such a fund to incentivize landlords to rent to veterans experiencing homelessness. Volunteers conducting the Point-in-Time homeless count in January 2018 found 51 homeless veterans in El Paso County, a 25 percent decrease from 2015. However, the city aims to achieve “functional zero” veteran homelessness, which entails housing more veterans per quarter than those newly identified as homeless. It plans to do so by creating a fund to receive private donations, which will then be distributed to service providers.

Democrats’ answer:

Minimize rental application costs through state legislation. In a tight market, landlords can get away with charging hefty application fees — sometimes making it near impossible for low-income renters, especially those with poor credit histories, to find new housing. Colorado House Bill 1106, which passed Feb. 21 on a 40-23 vote and is now under consideration in the Senate, would prohibit landlords from charging such fees unless they can prove the entire amount is used for processing a renter’s application. It would also keep landlords from considering rental or credit history more than seven years old, or from considering criminal history more than five years old (except for certain offenses, such as those involving methamphetamine, homicides, or cases requiring registration as a sex offender). The bill is sponsored by Reps. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, along with Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.

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