Colorado Editorials

The Gazette: Council, minus one, wants housing solution

Author: The Gazette Editorial Board - February 24, 2018 - Updated: February 24, 2018

Housing developments are good for humanity, so we applaud the Colorado Springs City Council for trying to end a decades-long quagmire that prevents construction of homes on 24,000 acres of Banning Lewis Ranch.

The council met in executive session Wednesday to discuss legal and transactional details of a 30-year-old annexation agreement blamed for bogging housing developments.

Colorado Springs needs more houses. That is why the median home price hit a record $295,000 in January, after years of home prices rising at a rate that far exceeds wage growth.

The low supply of homes, relative to demand, ripples through the market to create a shortage of “affordable housing” and a growing dilemma of homelessness and other struggles. Governments cannot legislate “affordable housing” onto the landscape, as if it is a special commodity magically exempt from market forces.

Homes become more accessible and “affordable” when we allow builders to build. Green belts, density restrictions, Not-In-My-Back-Yard politics, and protectionist zoning policies notoriously drive home prices at rates that exceed the Consumer Price Index. In Boulder, a community known for some of Colorado’s strictest housing regulations, the median home price exceeds $700,000.

Development advocates blame the Banning Lewis agreement for placing excessive fees and other financial burdens on property owners, making the proposed homes too costly for potential buyers.

Opponents of adjusting the agreement claim development will stress trails, parks, open spaces and other outdoor amenities.

“They fear that the city’s already-packed parks and open spaces will be strained further by those moving to town if no new amenities are added,” explained a Jan. 12 Gazette news story by Conrad Swanson.

The article cited a 2016 joint analysis by the Trust for Public Land and the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, which found “parks, trails and open spaces increase property values.”

Our community suffers from cognitive dissonance on the topic of homes. Well-meaning community leaders hold town hall meetings about the need for “affordable housing,” connecting high home prices with homelessness. Many of the same people advocate high fees on housing developments to fund non-essential amenities. They defend the costs by saying they will “increase property values.”

We cannot intentionally “increase property values,” and simultaneously hope to decrease property values for the sake of “affordable housing.” Regulations to “increase property values” make homes less affordable for working class, low-income, and entry level buyers.

Most council members want tweaks to the Banning Lewis agreement that will allow more homes without over-stressing amenities enjoyed by established residents with homes. They want an agreement that serves varying interests. It involves negotiating complex legal and transactional details, on specific properties, that should not be aired in public. Property negotiations made public tend to ignite opportunistic, speculative, third-party investments that drive up property values (read: housing costs).

Eight council members are working in good faith to balance the need for housing with the consequences of development. We applaud them for their earnest efforts. One Councilman sees this as an opportunity to grab the spotlight, have stories written, Facebook posts made and TV cameras roll. He stomped out of Wednesday’s meeting to promote himself as a champion of the people, insisting his colleagues turn sensitive negotiations into a three-ring circus.

People need homes, which means allowing builders to create them at prices buyers can afford. Eight of nine public servants are working selflessly to serve conflicting interests of established residents and people who need roofs over their heads.

Don’t give up. Be the council that solves a decades-old dilemma, making our city a better place to live.

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The Gazette Editorial Board