Dozens of Colorado cities enroll in new affordable housing program

Dozens of Colorado cities and towns that are home to more than half of the state’s population have signed up to receive their share of a nearly $300 million-a-year affordable housing program approved by voters.

The high interest, including from the city of Denver, comes despite concerns that some cities and towns won’t be able to satisfy the strings attached to the money.

In all, 67 municipalities across Colorado, representing its largest cities and 56% of its population, have agreed to the terms of Proposition 123, the affordable housing fund that voters approved last November. The program requires participating cities to increase their stock of affordable housing by a total of 9% in three years, and participating towns and cities in the future also will have to expedite their project approval processes.

With so much interest, it’s still unclear exactly much money each city will receive.

The program is funded via a diversion of a tiny sliver of state income tax revenue from the state budget each year. Cities and others that apply can use it to pay for homelessness services, land-banking for future developments, funding for new affordable units, support for first-time homebuyers, and innovative programs that give investment returns to renters, rather than banks.

Most of Denver’s suburbs have signed up, including Arvada, Aurora, Broomfield, Englewood and Lakewood. Fort Collins — in the midst of its own fight about housing reform — opted into Prop 123, despite concerns over whether it can build enough housing to meet the terms.

Boulder enrolled, too, after the city — like its counterpart in Denver — unsuccessfully sought a more lenient interpretation of the program’s requirements to make them more manageable. Colorado Springs also signed up, and so did the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, taking advantage of a tweak by legislators to allow tribes access.

Enrollment is open until Nov. 1.

The enrollment figures drew praise from the program’s supporters. Zach Martinez, a policy advisor for the Prop 123-backing Gary Community Ventures, said in a statement that the organization was “thrilled that more than half of Colorado has opted into the promise of Proposition 123.”

“It’s better than I anticipated, frankly,” added fellow supporter Peter LiFari, who runs Maiker Housing Partners, the housing authority in Adams County.

The money, he said, will help local governments weather “brutal” market forces, such as high interest rates and construction costs.

Since the ballot measure passed, state officials and the program’s backers have worked to assuage local concerns about the workability of Prop 123’s requirements.

Anxiety that local governments might shy away from the program prompted housing nonprofits, which stand to gain up to $55 million a year from the program, to successfully argue that they should receive the money even if the city or town they’re based in doesn’t opt in.

Supporters of Prop 123 have argued that there’s little penalty for failing to meet the requirements — and that the money is too good to turn down. Housing officials from various counties echoed those arguments earlier this summer.

“If we don’t opt in, we’re not eligible for $290 million every year,” Jay Sugnet, Boulder’s senior housing manager, told The Denver Post in July. “So it’s a significant resource, and if we don’t go after it, basically we’re not going to be able to achieve our affordable housing goals.”

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