By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless highlighted several legislative victories May 25 during its online education series. The webinar, “Legislative Wrap 2023: Homelessness, Health, and Other Key Issues for Coloradans,” focused on action at the Colorado statehouse.
The Coalition's advocacy program director, Aubrey Wilde, said the legislative session proved hectic with all the bills the Coalition followed. The “unprecedented control by Democrats” caught many off guard, Wilde said. But she said the legislators “hit the ground running” in the beginning and at the end of the session.
Desired outcomes reached on 90% of bills tracked
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless experienced desired outcomes on 90 percent of the bills they tracked. Victories included:
· Lifting a Medicaid cap so people can get more affordable health care.
· Giving municipalities the right of first refusal on apartment buildings that go on the market. This allows a city to purchase a property and try to keep it affordable. Otherwise, corporate owners often come along, slap some paint on the walls and jack up the rent so high the previous tenants can’t afford it.
· Protections for renters, including a cap on deposits of two months rent. Wilde said some apartment communities require eight months of rent for a deposit. Another bill prohibits landlords from asking a subsidized tenant to have at least double the monthly rent for income. Under the new regulations, the tenant only would have to show they can pay their portion of the rent times two per month. Yet another bill disallows discrimination by landlords of people with housing vouchers. Another bill would allow people due in court for eviction proceedings to attend remotely.
· A bill that allows properties contaminated with methamphetamine to be remediated and placed back on the market passed with amendments pushed by the Coalition. “The bill requires the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create a public database of buildings that have been used as illegal drug laboratories,” according to the Coalition’s 2023 legislative report. “The definition of illegal drug laboratories includes housing units where methamphetamine (meth) was used, not only manufactured, and the threshold for contamination is low. This concerned the Coalition’s safety staff because practically any use by residents could result in a black mark in the database and require costly remediation. It could also negatively impact tenants by forcing them out of their homes for remediation without warning.”
The sponsors amended the bill to specify it only pertains to locations where meth was manufactured. “CCH and other nonprofit housing providers will consider pushing for future legislation to mitigate the cost of remediation, improve tenant stability protections, and examine the low threshold for both remediation and registration that could sweep in units where negligible use occurred,” according to the legislative report.
· Protections for pet owners to stay in their housing.
· Strengthening so-called good Samaritan laws. Such laws allow people to administer Narcan during an overdose without fear of being prosecuted for providing the drugs.
· A bill that bans cities from setting future growth caps.
Affordable housing with a capital A
The Coalition's chief communications and public policy officer, Cathy Alderman, said it’s important when talking about affordable housing that the emphasis is on the big “A” in affordable. That is, not affordable housing in a generic sense but housing with supports and subsidies so the most income-challenged residents can afford them. “If we don’t target resources and invest in capital A affordable housing, we’ll never solve this crisis,” Alderman said. It's a message the Coalition pushed during the legislative session.
"CCH advocated strongly that supply alone would not solve the affordable housing crisis without affordability requirements and anti-displacement analyses and plans," according to the legislative report. "These issues were highlighted in CCH’s Report: Colorado’s Affordable Housing Crisis – It’s Time for Strategic Investments which was released in early April 2023 to combat the narrative of trickle-down housing and argue for targeting limited public resources for those households with the greatest needs and historical barriers in housing."
According to the legislative report, “CCH shaped the policy process through drafting bill language and amendments, participating in stakeholder convening, engaging in direct and grassroots lobbying, and providing public and written testimony (on 17 bills for a total of 29 times—21 live and eight written). The Coalition also sent action alerts to its network of over 25,000 individuals— resulting in 871 messages to legislators in support of the organization’s priorities—and generated community awareness and support on social media. With guidance from long-time contract lobbyist Danny McCarthy of Mendez, Barkis & Associates, the Coalition tracked 146 of the 617 introduced bills (24%). The Coalition actively engaged on 45 bills and achieved the desired outcome on 38 bills.”