Denver affordable housing (copy)

A congressional subcommittee has approved nearly $6.5 million for a trio of projects intended to create affordable housing in Denver and a shelter for children who are homeless.

The first major bill on housing — the issue that is likely to define the 2023 session — won committee approval on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1 would transfer $5 million from the General Fund and $8 million from the Housing Development Grant Fund to the Unused State-Owned Real Property Fund. The money would then go to public-private partnerships that would build affordable housing on state-owned land.

Gov. Jared Polis previously mentioned one project already in the works: land owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation at Dowd Junction, a small stretch of land west of Vail at the I-70 turnoff to Highway 24 north of Minturn. The department used the land as part of a repaving project in 2021. 

SB 1 co-sponsor Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, said the proposal will help pay for CDOT to move its infrastructure off that land and allow local jurisdictions, nonprofits and a private developer to build 80 units of workforce housing in what he called an ideal location for workers.

SB 1 won a 6-1 vote from the Senate Local Government and Housing Committee.   

Last year, lawmakers approved a bill to require the Department of Personnel and Administration to conduct an inventory of unused state-owned real property. With that inventory in hand, the agency would then determine if the land would be suitable for affordable housing, child care, public schools, residential mental and behavioral health care; for placement of renewable energy facilities; or, for any other purposes.

That inventory revealed 44 vacant parcels of land and 68 empty buildings that could be repurposed. Most of the vacant land is owned by the state's public colleges and universities. For example, CSU Fort Collins owns 16 parcels, while CU-Colorado Springs owns 14. 

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Bruce Eisenhauer, who represented the Department of Local Affairs at the committee hearing, cited — as a success of the public-private partnerships — a former state-owned building down the street from the state Capitol. The building was dilapidated, run-down, vacant and underutilized, he said. It has since been torn down and turned into a 103-unit apartment complex. Rents at Capitol Square range from $1,400 for a 634-square foot one-bedroom, one-bath apartment to $2,110 per month for a 812-square foot two-bedroom, two-bath unit. 

“Across Colorado, local communities are exploring innovative projects to ensure everyone can have access to an affordable place to call home near where they work,” Roberts said in a statement. “This bill will help catalyze many projects across the state by eliminating one of the biggest barriers to affordable housing development: the cost of land. By allowing public-private partnerships access to underused state land, we can expect hundreds of new affordable housing units across the state in the coming years, including 80 units in my home of Eagle County. I am thrilled this bill is moving forward with bipartisan support.” 

SB 1 got "yes" votes from two of the three Republican committee members, Sens. Perry Will and Janice Rich. It does not have any Republican sponsors.

Co-sponsor Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, said the housing crisis is a "top concern for the people of Colorado and the legislature alike."

"Constructing workforce housing is a key part of this year’s comprehensive work to address housing availability and affordability," Zenzinger said. "Teachers, nurses, and everyone who helps keep our state running deserve to have an affordable place they can call home. Senate Bill 1 will be incredibly helpful in our efforts to ensure Coloradans can afford to live where they work.”

SB 1's next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

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