Barbara Koelzer, Regional Government Affairs Director
Commissioners Approve Permit Process for Fire Victims: Boulder County just approved updates to its Land Use Code to create a more flexible process for property owners looking to rebuild after the Calwood Fire. The October 2020 fire, the largest in Boulder County’s history, burned 10,113 acres and destroyed 20 homes, mostly in the Mountain Ridge subdivision and three in Foothills Ranch.
The Land Use Code amendments approved by the Board of County Commissioners establish interim permitting procedures that provide flexibility for those who may want to make changes to the homes they had previously, and extend the timeframe for rebuilding from one year to two. Any changes to a home would be subject to a County building permit review, and the timeframe could be extended to three years with director approval.
The amendments also address the hazards that exist after a wildfire, the preexisting geological hazards in the area and other safety concerns. Based on community feedback, the County decided to revise the amendment to include land restoration efforts in addition to full rebuilds.
More information for affected property owners is available here: bit.ly/2ZURo38.
County Creates Pilot Car-Share Program: Boulder County’s “Mobility for All” Program has created a pilot car share program in Louisville at the Kestrel community (northwest of Highway 42 and South Boulder Road). Boulder County created the program in conjunction with Colorado Care Share. www.carshare.org https://www.bouldercounty.org/transportation/multimodal/mobilityforall/
The County says the region has a “growing demand for accessible and connected transit serving neighborhoods of affordable homes.” The new carsharing service is designed to complement existing transit at the Kestrel community in Louisville, which includes 71 permanently-affordable homes for adults 55-and-over and 129 multi-family homes.
Kestrel Residents also have access to RTD FlexRide, 228 & DASH Routes with a free RTD EcoPass; Boulder County offers a new on-demand, Ride Free Lafayette service that can take residents to Lafayette; Via Mobility Services and RTD Access-a-Ride provide paratransit services for older adults and individuals with disabilities; pedestrians and bikes can travel by trail to Waneka and Harpers Lakes; so this provides a natural complement.”
“This is a first in Louisville and a great opportunity to make it easier than ever to save money on transportation expenses,” said Angel Bond, Mobility for All Program Manager. We are really excited to add carsharing to the suite of transportation options that help Kestrel residents meet all of their transportation needs without having to own their own car.”
The pilot car share program, which is currently funded through 2021 by Boulder County, is expected to continue into next year, with the hope that funding can be secured to provide a shared electric vehicle (EV) with a charging station that may be available for both the Colorado CarShare EV and local residents. The initiative will include free carshare credits and deeply discounted membership and rates to Kestrel residents. This initiative is complemented by a similar carshare program in downtown Longmont that is also supported by Boulder County.
COLORADO ASSOCIATION REALTORS®
Legislative Update: Observers say Governor Polis has committed to giving the General Assembly $2 B of the State’s $5 Billion federal COVID recovery dollars to spend. Can you say, “feeding frenzy?”
SB-173 “Rights in Residential Lease Agreements” CAR Position: Oppose This bill heavily favors tenants over landlords.
HB-1117 “Local Government Authority Promote Affordable Housing Units” Position: Amend
It appears the bill sponsors may be willing to compromise a little. But this bill, which essentially allows rent control for affordable housing remains a great source of angst for the Legislative Policy Committee.
HB-1205 “Electric Vehicle Road Usage Equalization Fee” Position: Support
“The bill requires a road usage equalization fee (equalization fee) to be imposed at the time of annual registration on each plug-in electric motor vehicle that is required to be registered in the state. The fee is set in an amount that is estimated to achieve parity between the aggregate amount of motor vehicle registration fees and motor fuel excise taxes paid per vehicle by owners of plug-in electric motor vehicles and vehicles fueled by gasoline, diesel, or other special fuels and is annually adjusted for inflation.”
HB-1195 “Regulation Of Radon Professionals” CAR Position – Support. This bill would create minimum qualifications and licensing for radon mitigation professionals.
SB-148 “Creation of Financial Empowerment Office” CAR Position: Monitor
“The bill creates the Financial Empowerment office (office) and the director of the office (director) in the department of law to grow the financial resilience and well-being of Coloradans through specified community-derived goals and strategies. The director is appointed by the attorney general and may hire staff as necessary to perform the duties and functions of the office.”
The bill is intended to provide new tools to improve the ability of Colorado residents to manage their finances, create strategies to remove barriers to building ownership and wealth for all, “especially in low-income communities and communities of color.”
Mortgage Assistance on Hold: As of March 25, Colorado’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program will be on hold according to an article in the Colorado Sun. The rent-assistance programs will continue to distribute federal funding available only to renters. That program, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program began taking applications on Tuesday. It replaces the state’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program, or EHAP, for tenants and the program for landlords, called Property Owners Preservation, or POP.
When the mortgage assistance will return remains unknown, but more money is expected from the American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress earlier this month. The new federal relief plan provides help nationwide, with about $19.05 billion for rent assistance, $5 billion for homelessness assistance, $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers and $9.96 billion for mortgage payments.
The Department of Local Affairs does not know how much Colorado will receive in housing assistance from the new relief plan.
Legislative Transportation Leaders Unveil Bill Outline: After weeks of anticipation, Senator Faith Winter (Westminster) and Representative Matt Gray (Broomfield) published an outline of their $3.9 billion plan to fund transportation. The proposal hasn’t been drafted into a bill form yet, but they intend to introduce it soon. Governor Jared Polis voiced support for the proposal, in part because it supports his administration’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with funding for electric vehicles (EV) and EV infrastructure.
The proposal would create a new “road usage fee” to supplement the current gas tax that gasoline users would pay at the pump. That fee would start at 2 cents per gallon in 2023 and increase to 8 cents in 2029. Diesel would be taxed at 6 cents per gallon; the fee increases to 8 cents a gallon by 2027.
Electrical vehicles would see an increase from the $50 a year fee to $90 a year by 2032. Other fees would be imposed on car transportation services like Uber, online retail providers like Amazon, rental cars, taxis and even autonomous vehicles.
The sponsors say it would save Coloradoans $6.3 Billion a year in wear and tear, fuel and accelerated depreciation. It would raise $3.924 to “modernize and future-proof our transportation system and stabilize funding over the next 11 years.”
Senator Steven Fenberg, who is a co-sponsor said, “For years, Colorado has struggled to figure out a sustainable way to modernize and fund transportation. I believe this is the year we finally meet those challenges with a real solution that not only reduces congestion, but that does so with the seriousness that our air quality and climate crisis deserve…. We think it’s aggressively reasonable…and reasonably aggressive.”
The Denver Business Journal warns the “plan likely will meet significant Republican opposition due to its reliance on fee hikes that would start as soon as July 2022, both because of their fiscal impacts on Coloradans and because of what many consider their unconstitutionality in regard to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the recently approved fee-limiting Proposition 117. It also may distress business groups that sought more than the $111.8 million annual contribution it proposes from the state government and possibly anger some environmentalists who have said state leaders should not raise EV fees as they encourage the use of zero-emissions vehicles.”
Colorado Stimulus Plan: On March 11 Governor Jared Polis and the legislature’s Democratic majority unveiled their $700 Million “custom recovery strategy” for Colorado, which they say will focus specifically on the “hardest-hit sectors of our economy and community.” While many aspects of the plan do not specifically relate to real estate, there are some components that could affect our industry one way or the other.
Infrastructure is a plan priority with $170 Million allocated for “tourism corridors and scenic byways … Denver Metro Wes I-70 bridges, and improvements to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels.” Notice this list does not specifically mention North I-25. Instructure also includes “Innovative Housing and Community Revitalization” to the tune of $60 to $80 Million. This will “transform downtown spaces” and make more affordable housing options in urban areas, according to the plan. Broadband access is also included in this category ($50-$75 Million).
Under a primary goal of “Supporting Colorado Families,” the plan also intends to spend up to $10 Million on an affordable housing incentive program to fund local governments and encourage them to use a menu of options to build,, including reducing building permit fees, creating a vacant property registration program for the development of the affordable housing, or authorization of cluster zoning.
The plan will be funded through the use of unexpected tax revenue. The legislation to implement the plan hasn’t been introduced yet. Legislative leaders were waiting for the passage of the federal COVID relief bill before finalizing the funding for the state plan.
Eviction Filings on the Rise: Eviction filings have increased since the beginning of the year when Governor Polis chose not to renew a state eviction moratorium. Housing advocates have criticized the governor’s decision and complained that the State’s housing assistance program is overwhelmed, according to an article in the Denver Gazette.
Since Colorado’s moratorium expired on Dec. 31, the Governor has relied on the federal eviction moratorium, but advocates say the federal order is inadequate. It prevents landlords from evicting tenants who are behind on rent because of the pandemic, but allows them to proceed right up to the point where those tenants are physically removed. The federal order also allows landlords to seek evictions for tenants whose lease has expired, a tactic that advocates say can be used to get rid of people behind on their rent.
Once Polis’ order expired, evictions across the State increased especially in Denver and El Paso Counties. However, it is important to note that eviction filings are still far below pre-pandemic levels. Even so, advocates warn that Colorado risks driving more people into evictions at a time when the state is beginning to look toward the end of the pandemic. According to a mid-February survey conducted by the Census Bureau, more than one in four adult Coloradans said they’re behind on their rent or mortgage payments.
The Governor has defended his decision not to renew his eviction moratorium by pointing to the federal moratorium, which is now facing a legal challenge. (see below). The Governor also pointed out that our state has received or allocated over $340 million to housing and direct assistance for residents.
Congress Passes More COVID Relief: NAR’s Federal Advocacy team has been working closely with Congress and the Administration to ensure the interests of REALTORS®, their families, consumers, and the entire real estate industry are protected in any federal action in response to COVID-19.
Congress has passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package known as the “American Rescue Plan of 2021” and the bill was signed by the President. Included in the package are several provisions that impact the real estate industry. This is the sixth major coronavirus relief bill signed into law since the beginning of the pandemic.
Highlights of the American Rescue Plan:
- $1,400stimulus checks per person, phased out completely for individuals earning $80,000 per year and couples earning $160,000 per year (Those earning under the income limits will also receive $1,400 in stimulus money for each dependent, regardless of age, claimed on their latest filed tax return.)
- An extension through Sept. 6, 2021, to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program with continuation of the current $300 per week in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
- Exclusion of up to $10,200 in unemployment compensation from taxation for those with AGI of $150,000 or less, beginning in tax year 2020.
- $21.55 billion in new money for rental assistance, on top of the $25 billion allocated in December.
- A one-year increase in the child tax credit,paid in monthly installments, including $3,000 a year for each child ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 a year for each child under age 6 for couples who make $150,000 or less and single parents who make $112,500 or less
- Expanded Paid Sick and Family Leavethrough Sept. 30
- $10 billion for a Housing Assistance Fundthat will allow state housing finance agencies to help homeowners with COVID-19 hardships
- $100 million for housing counseling services
- $15 billion for a new small business grant program
- $350 billion in state and local aid
- $130 billion for schools
Legal Challenges to Federal Eviction Moratorium: On February 26 a federal district court in the Eastern District of Texas declared the CDC’s eviction moratorium violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Several property managers filed this case in the Eastern District of Texas, and therefore the decision only applies in this district and is not binding in others.
In this case, the plaintiffs argued the CDC’s eviction moratorium enacted in September of last year and extended in January of this year, violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause where the agency’s action was beyond the scope of its Article I powers. The CDC has argued a nationwide eviction ban is within its federal authority to regulate commerce among the states. Terkel et al. v. CDC (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas)
Interestingly, two state Realtor® associations have also filed a case challenging the federal moratorium. In this case, the plaintiffs argued the CDC order is unlawful on procedural grounds, namely how the order: (1) violated the Administrative Procedures Act and Regulatory Flexibility Act; (2) how the CDC exceeded its statutory authority when issuing the Order; (3) how the Order constituted an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment; and, (4) how the Order violated due process rights. The government has argued existing authority under the Public Health Services Act to issue the order as a public health measure. The Commerce Clause argument raised by the plaintiffs in Texas was not raised in this case and therefore does not directly impact the claims in this case. However, given the overlap in some of the reasoning (i.e. public health defense), it could be persuasive.
This case is still pending before the D.C. District Court, which is aware of the Terkel decision. A decision in this case could come as early as next month. (Alabama Association of REALTORS®, Georgia Association of REALTORS® et al. v. CDC (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia)
The CDC eviction moratorium is currently in effect until March 31st, and President Biden has previously indicated a preference for an extension through September, although no announcements have been made to date.
NAR Supports The Equality Act: The National Association of REALTORS® applauded the House on Thursday after lawmakers reintroduced and passed the Equality Act, a 2019 bill that would extend fair housing and other civil rights protections to LGBTQ Americans. The House first passed the measure nearly two years ago, but it stalled in the Senate. This time, the Equality Act is expected to move forward in the Senate, though support for its successful passage remains unclear. President Joe Biden has vowed to sign the law if it makes it to his desk.
The Equality Act, also known as H.R. 5, would amend the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, giving the LGBTQ community added protections in home sales, rentals, financing, insurance, and other housing-related transactions. It would also ban LGBTQ discrimination in the application of credit, employment, public education, public accommodations, federal funding, and the jury system.
“NAR applauds the House of Representatives for taking action to extend fair housing protections to LGBTQ Americans,” NAR President Charlie Oppler said in a statement. “As stewards of the right to own, use, and transfer private property, REALTORS®’ livelihoods depend on an open housing market, and discrimination of any kind limits our shared goals, undermines our values, and inhibits our ability to conduct business.”
NAR is among more than 600 organizations and 300 major companies that have voiced support for the Equality Act, including numerous real estate and mortgage firms. The association also has been a leader in anti-discrimination policy: NAR amended its Code of Ethics to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2011 and gender identity in 2013.
NAR Report Outlines Policies to Address Housing Affordability Problems: Nationwide housing inventory is lower than it’s been since the National Association of Realtors® began tracking this data in 1982. To continue its work to address a problem that has long plagued American communities and has been worsened by COVID-19, NAR just released new research arguing that the nation’s affordability crisis will require policymakers to adopt localized solutions. The paper, State and Local Policy Strategies to Advance Housing Affordability, recommends lawmakers pursue solutions through three key avenues: financial policy measures; policies aimed at increasing the supply of housing and zoning; and permitting policy reform.
In a presentation, the report’s authors said Colorado one of the worst-hit states re affordability. They said the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metropolitan area is one of the least affordable markets among large-sized metro areas. Other large-size markets that are similarly unaffordable include San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (CA), Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade(CA), and Portland (OR). Among small metro markets, the only Colorado city to make the least affordable list was Boulder.
The authors admit there are no “silver bullets” to magically solve housing affordability. They describe a variety of policies such as downpayment assistance, accessory dwelling units, density bonuses, and inclusionary zoning, saying “governments and policymakers should look for a combination of policies that best fits the needs of their communities and local housing markets>” Read the report here:
NAR’s Advocacy Agenda for the 117th Congress: What are NAR’s advocacy objectives for the next two years? The Association has four goals: Improve Access to Homeownership, Enable a Quick Economic Recovery After COVId-19, Ensure Fair Housing for All and Build Strong, Resilient Communities and Businesses. Click here for more information: https://tinyurl.com/27ukm45s
Follow me on Twitter @NoCoGovtAffairs