Colorado voters will decide whether to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars per year to affordable housing

Dan Boyce/CPR News
Four and six unit townhome-style buildings make up Mosaica, a new Colorado Springs housing development geared to families making slightly too much to qualify for traditional affordable housing. Developers hope to move residents in sometime this summer.

A proposal to increase the state's funding for affordable housing will appear on statewide ballots this November after supporters collected more than 200,000 signatures.

The “Make Colorado Affordable” proposal would require the state to spend a certain amount — almost $270 million in its first full year — on affordable housing. 

“We think this is the first time housing has ever been on the ballot statewide in Colorado,” said Mike Johnston, CEO and president of Gary Community Ventures, the philanthropy that is one of the measure’s main backers.

He added: “And we know it's a critical moment for us to make sure that teachers and nurses and firefighters have places to live in our communities.”

The measure would not directly raise taxes. Instead, it sets aside about 2 percent of the income taxes the state is already collecting. (To be specific, the state's current permanent income tax rate is 4.55 percent of income. The measure would require 0.1 percent of income to be taxed for affordable housing, while the other 4.44 percent would go to other purposes.) However, it would have the effect of reducing TABOR refunds by the same amount, too — meaning it will have a cost to taxpayers in some years.

“Initiative 108 is a bad idea. There’s nothing ‘affordable’ about taking $300 million of our TABOR tax refunds for this flawed housing measure,” tweeted Michael Fields, president of the conservative Advance Colorado Institute.

Johnston estimated the measure could fund 10,000 affordable housing units per year. That’s compared to a deficit of more than 100,000 homes for the state’s poorest people — and an overall market shortage of more than 300,000 homes.

The measure will only go into effect if it’s approved by a majority of voters in the 2022 election. If so, it would create a statewide affordable housing fund for purposes including:

  • Land banking. Governments and nonprofit developers would get loans to buy land for future projects. The loans are forgiven if affordable housing projects are started within a decade.
  • Grants and financing for low- and middle-income multi-family housing, and gap financing for projects that qualify for affordable housing tax credits.
  • Programs for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Debt financing for modular and factory-based housing builders.

It would be nearly a sixfold increase in the state’s dedicated affordable housing funds, which are currently about $50 million per year, Johnston said. The state is also in the middle of spending about $400 million of federal funds on housing across the state, but Johnston said that wouldn’t be enough.

"You can't build an affordable housing supply with one-time funds. They have to be long term. They have to be stable and they have to be significant,” he said. 

The program would be focused on families making 60 percent or less of an area’s median income, with some flexibility. It also includes incentives for governments to reduce the bureaucratic red tape that can slow down affordable projects.

The measure has reported more than $2.8 million in fundraising from groups including Gary Community Ventures, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, and the National Association of Realtors.

Editor's note: This story was updated on Sept. 27, 2022 to correct a misstatement about the amount of tax revenue to be dedicated to affordable housing.

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