Colorado lawmakers kill rent stabilization bill in blow to progressive housing agenda

Colorado lawmakers killed a bill Tuesday night that would’ve let local governments enact rent control policies, dealing a blow to progressive housing advocates’ ongoing efforts to insulate renters from rising rents and housing instability.

Avon Democratic Sen. Dylan Roberts joined with three Republican senators to sink HB23-1115, which passed the House in late February by a comfortable, if partisan, margin. The bill wouldn’t have enacted any rent control or stabilization policies; it instead would’ve ended a 42-year prohibition that prevents local governments from doing so themselves. That’s critical, advocates and renters say, as rents have surged in recent years and pandemic-era eviction protections expire.

Dozens of renters and advocates testified for hours in favor of the bill during its initial House hearing in February, alongside property owners and industry officials who warned of rent control’s impact on development.

Tuesday night’s testimony, before the Senate’s Local Government and Housing Committee, was shorter, and the bill’s demise was expected. Roberts had already said he was skeptical of the policy, echoing concerns from Gov. Jared Polis. Before he cast his vote Tuesday, he said testimony that evening had confirmed his suspicions that rent control would hurt development.

Those concerns have been rejected by the bill’s proponents. Rep. Javier Mabrey, the Denver Democrat who co-sponsored the bill in the House, has previously pointed to data showing cities with rent stabilization policies approved more housing development per capita than Colorado cities over the past decade. Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, the chair of the committee that killed the bill Tuesday, said she’d seen no evidence that the bill “would stifle construction or stifle growth.”

“I think we’re missing a huge opportunity here to allow local communities to do something about what is happening in our state with the rising cost of housing,” she said before the final vote. “We’re missing a huge opportunity, and I’m sad about that. The status quo is not working, and by sitting back and just voting this down, I don’t think we help our fellow Coloradans.”

The bill’s loss comes amid broader efforts by Polis and Democratic legislators to address the state’s housing crisis, and Roberts’s no-vote reaffirms the breadth of policy disagreements within the party as it wraps its arms around historic majorities in both the House and Senate. The rent control measure was co-sponsored by more than half of House Democrats, but opponents — like the Colorado Apartment Association — had hoped for months to kill the bill in the more moderate Senate.

Drew Hamrick, a senior vice president for the apartment association, said in an email Wednesday morning that rent control policies had been “catastrophic failures” elsewhere and that he was “pleased Colorado’s Senators are economically sophisticated enough to recognize these problems on a bipartisan basis.”

Supporters were less pleased.

“This vote means that teachers and service workers will be forced out of the communities where they work, especially in Colorado’s mountain resort areas,” Carmen Medrano, the co-chair of Colorado Homes for All, which supported the bill, said in a statement Tuesday night. “We are disappointed that corporate landlords dug their heels in to oppose giving back power to local officials to adopt rent stabilization policies needed in their communities.”

Rent control’s failure comes amid broader legislative disagreements around how to address housing. Polis’s primary strategy this year — to reshape zoning and encourage denser building — has been gutted over objections from Senate Democrats; it had already been watered down in order to earn Roberts’ support.

The opposition to that bill has centered around local control, given that the measure would set minimum zoning codes for the entire state, and ensure that communities have a say over their own development.

But a desire to preserve local authority over state-level interference wasn’t enough to get the rent control bill over the line Tuesday night.

“We’re seeing, on a whole host of policies, this altar of local control be held up,” Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and supporter of the bill, said Tuesday night before the vote. “This is following that request. Give local municipalities the tool. In 1981, the state of Colorado upended that by passing the statewide prohibition (on rent control) that this bill now seeks to strike in order to return that power back to local municipalities. To me, it’s either-or. I would ask for a measure of consistency on that.”

Still, a number of housing bills remain alive in the Capitol as the session reaches its frantic final two weeks. Bills to provide more eviction protections, regulate lease agreements, improve apartment habitability and incentive public-private development partnerships are all either advancing or have already passed.

While the rent control bill’s demise was somewhat expected, given Roberts’s known opposition, there’s more hope for another prominent pro-tenant housing bill. Several senators, including Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, said HB23-1171 — which would enact “just-cause” eviction protections — has a good chance at advancing. That bill has already passed the House and, like rent control, will also go through the Senate’s Local Government and Housing Committee; Roberts previously told the Denver Post that he was also skeptical of that measure.

As for rent control, Medrano and other supporters say they plan to bring the bill back.

“I’m sure the sponsor and other groups will keep trying,” Jaquez Lewis said, “year after year after year.”

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