Rep. Tracey Bernett
One of the many things I have taken away from my experience both as a policy advocate and a lawmaker is that there are so many ways we can approach the problems our communities face, both big and small, through novel and creative ideas. Two big problems we are challenged with are the need to combat climate change and the need for affordable housing. Although these issues seem exclusive, one of the first bills I ran as a State Representative tackled both. HB21-1009 is a bill which expands the Colorado Department of Housing’s ability to promote low- and middle-income housing developments which are sustainable, affordable, and located in the areas they are needed most. At the core of HB21-1009 is a community driven approach, which works to promote development through a grassroots system of grants to partner public and private organizations. The new housing that is created by the program will meet the high energy efficiency standards set forth by the Department of Housing, and therefore will also have enhanced quality.
Right now, HB21-1009 is on its way to Governor Polis’s desk. Upon his signature, this piece of legislation will usher in a new era for the Department of Housing. This era will be marked by a growing emphasis on creating sustainable and affordable housing across our state, especially in fast growing areas like Boulder County and the Denver-Metro area. However, this bill is not just limited to urban and metro areas. Even in our rural communities, there is a need for housing growth to be affordable for all families. By instructing the Department of Housing to create programs which reflect the needs of our state, while infusing sustainable practices which protect our environment, we can grow our communities in an equitable and environmentally responsible fashion.
One of the many lessons that policymakers, including myself, took away from the COVID pandemic is that we can greatly reduce emissions by eliminating lengthy commutes to work and school. As we begin to rebuild or economy, we have the opportunity to rebuild stronger than before. This rebuild must include an emphasis on allowing people who are returning to the workforce to live where they work. HB21-1009 creates incentive programs for low- and middle-income developments in town centers, schools, and major transit hubs. The ultimate goal will be to provide housing near the areas where people work and live, therefore reducing the amount of time spent on the road. While this has benefits for all Coloradans, it especially helps those who have the least by cutting costs of transportation and utilities.
Furthermore, as we move into a post-COVID world, businesses have been permanently altered, and a growing percentage of the workforce will continue to work fully or partially from home. Because of these changes, this bill directs the Department of Housing to collaborate with other state departments to convert unused or underused state buildings low- and middle-income housing. This will allow us to make a more efficient government and create more access to housing.
As is true with most issues, there is always a need to address the systemic inequities in our community and how they underlay almost every issue we discuss in the General Assembly. That is why in addition to incentives which focus on location of developments and sustainable growth, HB21-1009 also incentivizes increased density development to address housing affordability and shortages. The bottom-up approach of partnering with local groups to provide state funding, as opposed to a top-down mandate, ensures the development that is created reflects the needs of the community, whether it is single family units in rural Colorado or multifamily developments in the heart of urban areas.
HB21-1009 is one of the many ways that the Colorado General Assembly can tackle the threat of climate change while at the same time making a more equitable and just society. I want to thank the community for their support of me and of this bill, and I want to assure everyone that I will continue to address problems of climate, housing, and equity in my time at the State House.