THE PODIUM | We can’t slam the door on new housing if we want it to be affordable

Authors: Stefka Fanchi, Ted Leighty - October 10, 2018 - Updated: October 9, 2018

Stefka Fanchi

Coloradans dodged a bullet earlier this year when the proponent of a crippling anti-growth initiative walked away from the measure for lack of public support. The statewide ballot proposal would have had wide-ranging and devastating consequences — not only for the housing sector, which effectively would have been shut down, but also for our entire economy. It would have backfired on us all, and especially on the economically most vulnerable.

Initiative 66, authored by perennial anti-growth activist Daniel Hayes, ironically, would have addressed one of the most challenging realities on the Front Range these days — a shortage of affordable housing — by making it exponentially worse. The cap that the initiative sought to slap on home construction would have turned the affordable housing crunch into an outright disaster.

No wonder newspaper editorial boards, including the Denver Post, came out swinging against the measure early on. And it’s no surprise popular support was lacking, too: A survey commissioned by Coloradans for Responsible Reform a few months ago found only 36 percent of respondents said they were likely to vote for the proposal as written.

After all, just how many Coloradans are really going to vote for a scheme to make it dramatically more difficult to find a place to live — as well as to find a job to pay for it?

Those of us who have devoted the better part of our lives creating housing opportunities for all,  building the houses and shaping the neighborhoods you and your families call home, naturally breathed a sigh of relief when Hayes pulled the plug. He acknowledged in June he couldn’t get the roughly 100,000 voters’ signatures he’d need to get his Draconian growth limits on the ballot. It was great news.

Ted Leighty

If only that were the end of it. If history is any guide, this proposal or something similar is likely to come back at some point. Either statewide or at the local level, there’s a good chance we’ll see yet another fundamentally misguided attempt to stuff a cork into the bottle — to blindly ignore the basic laws of economics and to cut Colorado off from the rest of the country and stymie our prosperity.

Indeed, just last year in Lakewood, one of our state’s largest cities, another such measure was turned back from the ballot at the last possible moment. It would have imposed unworkable and unreasonable restraints on that city’s housing market.

You’d think the logic would be obvious: You can’t shut off the supply of any commodity or service — especially something as capital intensive as homebuilding — without forcing prices for the remaining stock into the stratosphere and shoving many of our citizens out of the market for good.

These recurring attempts to ignore reality and undermine our economy stem in large part from the unwillingness of single-minded activists to place the best interests of their fellow citizens above a narrow and counterproductive ideology.

However, they also are tapping into some broader, underlying — and understandable — sentiments about growth and its tradeoffs during boom times. Whether it’s bottlenecked traffic at rush hour, concerns about overuse of basic resources like water, or the much-reported scarcity of affordable housing — especially for Coloradans of modest means — it is only human at times to have mixed feelings about new development.

What we must remind ourselves is that the solutions to these very real concerns lie in policies such as wise land-use planning; responsible resource development and conservation, and of course, investment in basic infrastructure including transportation and affordable housing.

The solution is not to slam the door on new housing — which will hit hardest those who least can afford it.

A pivotal report recently commissioned by a broad consortium of key economic stakeholder groups in Colorado and coordinated by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable found that a mandatory cap on annual housing growth, such as that proposed by Initiative 66, could have massive repercussions that transcend housing concerns in Colorado. According to the report, such an approach not only would decrease the number of new houses being built annually but also contribute to subsequent declines in job numbers and residential investment.

Colorado attracts newcomers today for the same reasons it always has: It is a land of beauty — and of opportunity. Let’s commit to enhancing those attributes rather than putting a fence around them.

And let’s resolve once and for all to move past the demagoguery and false appeals of “no growth” — and embrace solutions that make progress work for us all.

Stefka Fanchi

Stefka Fanchi

Stefka Fanchi is a member of the board of Housing Colorado, an industry association representing all aspects of affordable housing.

Ted Leighty

Ted Leighty

Ted Leighty is CEO of the Colorado Association of Home Builders.