Affordable Housing Update!

Teller Commission Leader Takes Lead Role in Plans to Remove “Condo Shackles”

Rick Langenberg

Teller County is moving full-speed ahead in a plan to help spearhead more affordable housing units by trying to end current restrictions and liability demands against condo and town home development.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said Teller County Commission Chairman Erik Stone, who has taken a lead role among county leaders throughout the region and state in lobbying for reforms to the construction defect laws that many believe paralyzed this type of home building activity. This effort is strongly supported by the current board of commissioners and other leaders in the area.

Moreover, Stone is optimistic that leaders from both sides of the aisle will join the pleas of Teller officials and others in trying to unlock the “shackles” against condo developers and builders. Stone contends these rules, ripe with restrictive, unreasonable warranty demands, favor trial lawyers, but penalize homebuyers, including many young people and seniors.

During a recent commissioners’ meeting, Stone gave an upbeat report of the momentum this issue has generated among key organizations and homebuilder groups in Colorado.

“We are realizing this is a big issue across the state and not just for us,” said Stone, who has cited a plethora of statistics showing that condo development has basically screeched to half for the last two decades.

“They (new condominium units) just don’t exist in Colorado.  This is an important part of the housing segment.”

And for Teller County, an area experiencing a huge housing crisis, the lack of condo-type units, such  Burro  Ranch development in Cripple Creek and Columbine Village in Woodland Park, is escalating the area’s housing woes,  notes the commission chairman.

Stone compares this situation to an individual trying to purchase a car and being told that only Cadillacs are available, when they may want a more affordable product, such as maybe a Hyundai.

As a result, he stated that affordable housing units in Teller just don’t exist, with future residents having the choice of buying a $400,000-plus home or renting at astronomical prices.

“It gives an opportunity for young people entering the housing market,” related Stone, in describing the demand for more condos. At the same time, he sees condos as an ideal choice for seniors wanting to downsize to a more maintenance-free lifestyle. “Those units just aren’t available in Teller County,” added the commission chairman.

Already, Stone stated that several stakeholder meetings have occurred aimed at changing these regulations and reversing this anti-affordable housing trend.  Many leaders and building proponents say these regulations have put the brakes on condo and town home development. He has cited growing support from the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties, Inc., the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments and key homebuilder groups.

Ultimately, Stone hopes this effort will result in changes to the current restrictions so more affordable condo units can get built in Teller and across the state.

Gaining Support From Colorado legislators

But the big question:  Can this effort garner support among the bulk of state lawmakers, currently dominated by the Democratic Party, which isn’t known for backing rules that ease up on safety and insurance regulations?

However, the commission chairman believes that many Dem leaders will join the pro-condo bandwagon and join the battle to lessen these restrictions for future condominium development.

“We have had a lot of bipartisan support,” said Stone. “This is not a partisan issue. It is a political issue.” He hinted that if major opposition comes forward, it will come from trial lawyers.

Proponents of this effort believe the political clock may actually favor this movement.

Stone notes that with the failure of the state’s ambitious affordable housing package in the last session, known as SB 213,  many lawmakers are looking for alternatives ways to address this problem on a state-wide basis.

The pro-condo plan follows a state bid, orchestrated by Governor Jared Polis, to require more high density housing in larger municipalities by taking local governments out of the land use and zoning equation. The governor’s plan got met by a strong volley of opposition from leaders of many big municipalities, such as former Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. Opponents from local governments came out swinging and SB 213 encountered a convincing  death.

Stone contends that this effort just wasn’t realistic, and argues that their  new pro-condo and town home plan could work much better and achieve better results.

“We want to get government out of the way,” said Stone.

As for the timetable of this pro-condo push, he expressed optimism that some proposed reforms could get approved next year.