2023 Leg Session, Columnists, Housing, Jon Caldara, Land Use, Uncategorized

Caldara: Yet more central planning won’t make housing affordable

(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)

The most troublesome bill for legislators this session is Senate Bill 213, Gov. Jared Polis’ own pride and joy, that he promises will create a “home for every budget.”

So, is this bill good or bad? Well, it’s a little of both. Absolutely.

It’s hard to summarize SB-213, not only because it’s more than 100 pages long, but like an aging Hollywood starlet with a good plastic surgeon, it changes every few days. Democrat allies are starting to break from Polis, as Republicans just want to defeat anything Jared brings forward.

As it reads today, I hope the bill dies. But there are bits and pieces of the bill that shouldn’t be thrown out with the bath water. I know it’s impossible today but, this would be a good bill to put aside partisanship (yes, and I shouldn’t be bald).

Let’s just step back for a second and ask how did we get here? “Here” being the ridiculously unaffordable Colorado home market. This will be a shocker. It all came from bad governmental policy — every last bit of it.

Colorado is one big, empty plot of land. Yet thanks to urban growth boundaries, growth control and central planners’ power-hungry lust for ever-increasing density, we all live on top of each other like rats.

In a state where 98% of the land that can be developed is yet to be developed, we all wonder why home prices are out of control.

Colorado should be the most affordable state in America to live. But policy makers who apparently know better regarding how we should live have made it the opposite case.

This elitist system of intellectual central planning goes by many different sales names: “New Urbanism,” “Smart Growth,” “Transit-Friendly Development,” etc. In practice, it is stack-and-pack housing resulting in true systematic racism as it prices minorities and first-time homeowners out of the market.

It creates lily-white communities with ever-escalating property values. Which is frickin’ awesome! Why? Because I live in racist, growth-control Boulder.

Thank you, central planners, growth-control, high-density racists! My stupid, ugly little split-level Boulder house is my only good “investment” due to your elitism.

Boulder has both urban growth boundaries and growth controls. The average price of a home there is now more than a million dollars. Low-income, highly subsidized housing is clustered in certain areas (next to my house) that no diversity-speaking, Tesla-driving Boulderites would dare call “the ghetto.” But we do keep “those people” away from the fancy folk.

The dirty secret is people with homes don’t want affordable homes for other people — maybe their kids, but nobody else.

The forced scarcity of urban growth boundaries and growth control keeps property values artificially high. Drive through Boulder and go to the white folks who have Black Lives Matter signs in their yards. Ask them if they’re willing to get rid of Boulder’s growth boundaries so poorer minority families can have real homes with yards like theirs, and you’ll see Boulder-style tolerance in action.

They don’t want neighbors at all. They want as few houses as possible so long as they own one.

Last legislative session Republicans sponsored a bill to stop growth-caps, like Boulder’s. It was of course executed in its first Democrat-controlled committee. So, who wants to help the poor?

One part of SB-213 takes on urban growth boundaries. Let’s see if that provision makes it to the final version. The bill also loosens restrictions for homeowners to cut through local red tape when building on their own property.

That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. The question is do we want zoning questions made by the state, not our city? The state central planners want more stack-and-pack housing, more density. Don’t for a moment think that more density means lower home prices. Look at Boulder! Look at Denver!

Also thank Colorado lawmakers for making starter homeownership impossible by putting trial lawyers before young people needing to buy their first home, a condominium. It is near impossible to get insurance to build condos in this state because the legislature won’t pass a construction defects bill.

So, builders build apartments instead, not condos, the steppingstone into a house. Every time a bill comes forward to make it easier to ensure condominium builders, the legislature kills it.

Real profiles in courage there.

Whether SB-213 passes or not lawmakers could easily fix the hateful housing problems they created.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute,  free market think tank in Denver.


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