Proposition 123 asks voters to direct tax revenue toward affordable housing
One of the statewide measures before Colorado voters this year is Proposition 123.
It calls for the allocation of 0.1% of state tax revenue to fund the construction of affordable housing units.
Proponents say this measure will provide overdue relief while not increasing taxes.
But those who oppose it say eliminating housing regulations will do more to solve the problem.
At the Sister Carmen Community Center in Lafayette in Boulder County, clients not only avail of the food bank, but also seek help with rent and utility bills.
Abi Ocampo, a bilingual advocate supervisor at Sister Carmen, says the organization has seen a spike in requests for assistance as the cost of living soars.
“After Covid and the Marshall Fires, we've just seen an increase in people asking for help. And you know, with inflation being such a scary thing, it's hard for people to be able to live and choose do I pay my rent and not eat or do I eat and I don't pay my rent? And then maybe I'll even get evicted eventually,” she said.
Ocampo worries that the soaring cost of living could end up affecting the most vulnerable, as well as essential workers.
“And we just have to think about people in our community with fixed incomes like seniors, teachers, nurses, and firefighters who work every day to make sure that our communities are safe, are healthy, are educated, and they can no longer live in the communities where they work,” said Ocampo.
Housing is on the minds of many Colorado voters this election cycle.
The Colorado Health Foundation’s Pulse Poll found that survey respondents were more concerned about the rising cost of living and housing than any other issue.
Proposition 123 calls for earmarking up to 0.1% of state income tax revenue to fund grants and loans to local governments to build permanently affordable housing.
Mike Johnston, CEO and president of the Gary Ventures philanthropic organization, says the proposition is a unique opportunity to tackle Colorado’s housing crisis.
“And it does that without raising taxes. And I think this is really important because it helps make sure that everybody has access to affordable housing, particularly those folks who are most left behind in the current economic environment,” he said.
“We know this disproportionately affects lower-wage workers. We know it disproportionately affects residents of color in Colorado and younger residents, people with kids.”
Proponents of the measure estimate if Proposition 123 passes, it will set aside $300 million dollars each year to fund housing crisis solutions.
“We're very fortunate in the fact that we have 225 organizations that are endorsing and supporting it. We do not have any organizations that have opposed it. And so right now we don't have any opponents. And we think that's because 86% of Coloradans think it's really important to build this affordable housing,” said Johnston.
But support for the proposition is not unanimous.
Michael Fields is with Advance Colorado Action, an advocacy organization in favor of smaller government.
"We are opposing Proposition 123," said Fields.
"Basically the reason for that is that we don't think that government should be more involved in housing. We shouldn't have more of a government takeover.”
Fields disagrees with the argument that Proposition 123 does not raise taxes because it could affect TABOR refunds.
“I mean, when they're taking our TABOR refunds, that's a tax increase. So like, they're gonna say it's not, but again, we have less money in our pocket. If we get that $750 check, if it's $650 next year, they took more of our money, whether they want to call it a tax increase or not,” said Fields.
U.S. Census data shows Colorado has a shortage of about 225,000 homes.
Fields says the solution would be to loosen government regulations in order to stimulate supply.
“We have to make it easier for permitting. We have to get zoning through quicker in localities. We have to build more and quicker, and that will drive down the cost, not only for low-income people, but for all Coloradans. Because if you have 225,000 fewer units than you need, the cost is going to be too high. And so I just think that government can get out of the way more than creating a few thousand units when we are 225,000 under isn't going to do much, but it's very costly,” said Fields.
Even if it does pass, just how quickly and effectively Proposition 123 could provide relief to people standing in line outside of Sister Carmen and other food banks statewide, is unknown.
This story from KGNU was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.