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April 18, 2023

House Committee Passes Bills to Reduce Housing Costs, Combat Drought and Wildfire Destruction

Legislation includes $13 million toward affordable workforce housing, water-wise landscaping in HOAs and wildfire mitigation and resilience building codes

DENVER, CO – The House Transportation, Housing & Local Government Committee today passed three pieces of legislation to support communities in creating more housing that is affordable, combating drought through water-wise landscaping and building more wildfire-resilient homes. 

“From the front range to our mountain communities, Colorado’s housing crisis is affecting us all,” said Rep. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, sponsor of SB23-001. “Through this bill, we’re taking tremendous steps to address our housing affordability crisis from all angles. This legislation will make it easier for public-private partnerships to construct new, quality housing and support our state’s growing workforce.” 

“The housing affordability crisis is hitting my community hard, and we’re investing in innovative projects to create affordable homes for our teachers, nurses, firefighters and others critical to our diverse workforce,” said Rep. Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, sponsor of SB23-001. “This legislation helps the state streamline housing construction through public-private partnerships that benefit everyone. Turning unused, state-owned land into affordable housing is win-win for everyone because those who serve our communities can have a place to call home.”

SB23-001, sponsored by Representatives Bird and Lukens, passed committee by a vote of 9 to 4. This bill would provide $13 million in funding for public-private partnership projects managed by the Public-Private Collaboration Unit within the Department of Personnel Administration to help develop affordable workforce housing on state-owned land so that Colorado workers like teachers, nurses, and everyone in between, can find housing that fits their budget. SB23-001 builds on work from previous sessions, including HB21-1274 and SB22-130, regarding the inventory of underutilized properties and state-owned land. The bill would transfer $5 million from the General Fund and $8 million from the Housing Development Grant Fund to the Unused State-Owned Real Property Fund for these housing projects.

“There are many homeowners who are interested in replacing their water-intensive lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping, but it doesn’t align with their HOA regulations,” said Rep. McCormick, D-Longmont, sponsor of SB23-178. “Water-wise landscaping supports biodiversity, is unique to Colorado’s climate and significantly cuts back on freshwater usage. This legislation allows Coloradans living in HOAs to have water-wise landscaping options for their lawns, which is good for wallets and the planet.” 

“As Colorado combats historic drought conditions a good place to reduce freshwater usage is on our lawns,” said Rep. Mandy Lindsay, D-Aurora, sponsor of SB2-178. “This legislation breaks down barriers for homeowners in HOAs to plant a water-wise yard. Water-wise yards require less maintenance than traditional turf lawns and utilize native plants to contribute to our state’s natural landscape and beauty. Property owners should have the right to change their landscaping so they can be a partner in how we use less water and conserve our most precious resource.” 

SB23-178, sponsored by Representatives McCormick and Lindsay, passed committee by a vote of 11-2. This bill would reduce barriers facing Colorado homeowners in homeowners associations (HOAs) who wish to replace their lawns with water-wise landscaping. SB23-178 would promote water-wise landscaping, emphasizing native plants that better sustain Colorado’s local ecosystem while requiring little or no irrigation. The bill requires HOAs to select and pre-approve three water-wise landscape designs for homeowners to choose from. The bill would also prevent an HOA from requiring hardscape on more than 20 percent of a landscape area and prohibiting vegetable gardening in a homeowner’s front yard.

About half of the water used in single-family homes in Denver goes toward “outdoor use,” according to Denver Water. Last year, the legislature passed legislation to create the Turf Replacement Program, which provides financial incentives for voluntary replacement of irrigated turf with water-wise landscaping. SB23-178 complements that initiative by helping homeowners who may not need financial incentives but are hindered by HOA regulations.

“Wildfire season in Colorado is now year round and we need to be mindful about how we build in the wildland-urban interface to protect Coloradans who live there,” said Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood, Chair of the House Transportation, Housing & Local Government Committee and sponsor of SB23-166. “Establishing minimum building standards is key to fortifying our homes and businesses against destructive wildfires. County to county, wildfires do not recognize local boundaries and it is important we create smart and flexible building standards that work to keep each and every community safe.”   

“On the Western Slope and across Colorado, catastrophic wildfires uproot entire communities and it’s important we act now to create more resilient buildings,” said Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, sponsor of SB23-166. “This legislation establishes wildfire-resilient building codes across local governments to ensure we’re reducing the risk of wildfire displacement and destruction. Our bill is an important step forward in protecting our homes, communities and livelihood against the growing threat of wildfires.” 

SB23-166, sponsored by Representatives Froelich and Velasco, passed committee by a vote of 8 to 4. This bill would help communities and Coloradans living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) better defend homes and property from catastrophic wildfires by establishing a statewide wildfire resiliency code board charged with establishing proven building codes to better protect life and property against increasingly common wildfires. Local governments with jurisdiction in the new WUI area, as determined by the code board, would be required to adopt the model code or a code of their own that meets or exceeds minimum standards.

SB23-166 would create the Wildfire Resiliency Code Board made up of 21 voting members representing local governments, utilities, and other relevant disciplines such as fire and building code professionals that would work to define and establish minimum standards that better defend building structures in the WUI from dangerous wildfires.The bill also requires the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to support local governments upon request in conducting inspections and enforcing their local code.

Wildfires have grown increasingly destructive in recent years. The Marshall Fire in 2021 burned more than 1,000 homes and over 30 commercial structures, and caused more than $2 billion in damage, while 2020’s East Troublesome Fire destroyed 366 houses, causing $543 million in damage.

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