Ballots hit mailboxes this past week and voters in the Estes Valley have two workforce housing questions on which to decide.
One is the local ballot initiative, E6, that would raise the lodging tax on hotels, motels, lodges, and short-term rental properties. This revenue stream, which is expected to generate about $6 million annually, can only be used to expand the stock of housing for the Estes Valley workforce and to also increase the availability of childcare in our area.
The other is a statewide ballot initiative, Proposition 123. Both ballot issues are aimed at remedying the critical shortage in affordable housing.
While the focus here in the Visit Estes Park Local Marketing District has been on E6, Prop 123, if passed, would require that one-tenth of one percent of state income tax revenues, or about $300 million, be spent on affordable housing development and related programs every year. That is about six times what the state currently spends on housing.
Supporters say this would be used to develop about 10,000 affordable workforce housing units annually, provide down-payment assistance to first-time home buyers, and create a unique saving program to help renters build equity.
Critics point out that Prop 123 would reduce the amount of money that can be refunded to voters through The Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) by approximately $43 in 2023 and $86 in 2024, according to estimates by the Colorado Legislative Council.
Affordable housing—defined as rental housing that is affordable to a household with an annual income at or below 60 percent of the area median income, and that costs the household less than 30 percent of its monthly income”—is a serious problem for millions of Americans.
There is even a term for the problem — “housing instability.”
A person or family is considered to experience “housing instability” if they have trouble paying rent, if too many people live in an apartment or house, if they must move frequently, or if they spend 30 percent or more of their household income on housing. People who spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing and utilities are considered “cost burdened.”
Housing instability can mean inadequate shelter that lacks hot and cold running water, a bathtub or shower, a working toilet, or heating.
It can mean the house is unsafe because of exposed electrical wiring, a leaking roof or walls, holes in the floor, wall cracks wider than a dime, significant peeling paint, or an infestation of rodents.
Housing instability also encompasses overcrowding in a single dwelling and neighborhood safety.
Nationwide there is a housing crisis because there is a housing shortage. America is nearly four million housing units short of the needed amount of housing for sale and for rent.
Research has shown that housing instability affects family stability, physical health, and mental health. “Cost burdened” households are more likely than others to sacrifice necessities like healthy food and healthcare to pay the rent, and to experience unstable housing situations like evictions.
Children whose families experience housing instability are at risk for low academic achievement and behavioral problems that can lead to suspension and expulsion.
A variety of factors created the nationwide shortage of housing, including the 2007-2008 mortgage lending crisis which significantly slowed building especially of smaller entry-level homes for lower-income families, coupled with restrictions and regulations in many localities on the type of housing that could be built, a demand for larger single-family homes, and increased costs for permits, materials, and labor.
The bottom line is there is just not enough affordable housing, and too often what is available is not adequate or decent.
Communities across the country must come up with state and local solutions to address the issue. Here in the Estes Valley, voters can weigh in on both the state and local choices.
EVSTRA has taken a proactive stance in favor of 6E to support the local Estes Valley workforce with a local solution. It is important for Estes Valley voters to also study and carefully weigh the other workforce housing ballot initiative.