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Our View: State of the state on housing: Need broad approach

State of the state speeches are often long on promises and short on details. We get swept up in what Colorado can become as our state approaches its 150th anniversary in 2026. Those promises are hopeful. A little dreamy even.

Then reality hits. In this case, it’s the cost of housing that blew by wages and salaries, and brought with it a worker squeeze throughout the Southwest.

Of course, housing crises bubble up nationwide. So we were glad to hear Gov. Jared Polis highlight the urgency around creating affordable housing in a comprehensive way. Polis asked that ubiquitous but insightful job interview question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

For Colorado, his question allows us to back up the lens a bit to see how housing connects with more than our workforce. Housing has multiple dimensions.

Polis’ words: “Housing policy is climate policy. Housing policy is economic policy. Housing policy is transportation policy. Housing policy is water policy. Housing policy is public health and equity policy.”

Nice sound bites, for sure. He’s right, though. We need an all-inclusive approach to solve housing dilemmas.

Around our state, American Rescue Plan Act dollars have been put toward projects. Voters passed Proposition 123, a layered, ambitious initiative that directs 0.1% of taxable state income to programs that include helping essential workers buy homes, while financially supporting local governments to increase housing stock by 3% every year. Prop. 123 is estimated to create 170,000 houses and rental units over 20 years. Currently, U.S. Census Bureau data show a shortage of about 225,000 homes in Colorado.

We’re off to a decent start.

Still, making housing affordable is complicated. We have to bust through outdated regulatory barriers that impede construction. For all the trouble, these new dwellings are pricey and modest – manufactured and tiny homes, and dense apartment complexes with neighbors close by. But this is the way forward. We’re forced to rethink everything. Lawns, driveways and garages, housing footprints. If we can adjust our way of thinking, our perspective to what is reasonable in this state of our state, we can do this.

Polis did make solid points with the tentacles of our housing crisis reaching in all directions. Not affording a home close to work means more traffic, lost time and money spent on commutes, more air pollution, and greater economic and workforce challenges. For working parents, it often means being too far from children attending neighborhood schools or day care.

We asked Polis for details on his “housing policy is water policy” connection. He talked about population levels and per capita water usage, which he said has “decreased about 5%.” At the heart of our conversation was the need to “build out for the water.”

This isn’t new. Collectively, we’ve discussed all manner of water efficiency and incentives to developers. What Polis did do was prioritize water as “a driver of where housing is.” Yes, it’s less expensive to build affordable housing farther out from cities and towns. But lower land value and prices aren’t enough in finding solutions. Close in is better.

Too often, conversations between housing and our workforce don’t go further. They stall and die. Polis includes water security for a hotter, drier climate with an increased population. Because more people will be coming to Colorado.

The Western Slope experienced faster growth than the Front Range in 2021, according to the State Demography Office. The office forecasts Western Slope counties will grow from around 600,000 residents today to nearly 800,000 by 2050.

By 2030, Colorado’s population is expected to top 6.4 million. Now, about 5.84 million people lived in Colorado.

Looking five years ahead, a smart, comprehensive plan in place now – one that creates more housing, protects Colorado’s resources and reduces sprawl – might just get us there. That’s something to feel hopeful about.