Proponents of Colorado rent control measure say it would help low wage earners making tough choices

Like whether to pay the rent or buy enough groceries.

Celesté Martinez, UNE organizing director, speaks at the Capitol during a news conference by supporters of a bill to allow rent control in Colorado. April 9, 2019. (Donna Bryson/Denverite)

Celesté Martinez, UNE organizing director, speaks at the Capitol during a news conference by supporters of a bill to allow rent control in Colorado. April 9, 2019. (Donna Bryson/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Graciela Moreno sent Colorado legislators a letter urging them to adopt a rent control measure.

The bakery worker would have liked to have delivered her message in person. But that would have meant missing work — and pay.

Proponents of Senate Bill 19-225, “Authorize Local Governments To Stabilize Rent,” say it’s designed to help people like Moreno who, because they earn low wages as the cost of living rises, have to make tough choices. Like whether to pay the rent or buy enough groceries.

“I understand that housing to the corporations and the landlords is a business. But it is my home,” Moreno said in a letter read in the Capitol’s West Foyer at a news conference Wednesday. It was organized by the advocacy groups United for a New Economy and 9to5 Colorado, which have collaborated with lawmakers on a number of housing measures at the State House this session.

Last week Sen. Julie Gonzales introduced the bill that would allow local governments to enact their own rent stabilization measures if they choose. Her bill would overturn a 1981 Colorado law banning rent control. It does not propose imposing statewide standards as Oregon did in February when its governor signed a law limiting landlords to rent increases of no more than 7 percent plus inflation, and to raising rents only annually.

Colorado’s proposal “can open the door of immense opportunities for our cities and county governments to have the decision-making power to create policies and solutions that we need for every Coloradan to call our state home,” Celesté Martinez, UNE organizing director, said at the news conference.

The bill was to have received its first hearing before the Senate State, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee after Wednesday’s news conference. But lawmakers weren’t able to get to it on the agenda before the Capitol closed early because bad weather was on the way.

In her letter, Moreno said rent for her Aurora apartment has more than doubled from $475 a month when she moved in in 2008 to $960 now, while her wages have risen about a third from $9 an hour to $12.25.

Teo Nicolais, a landlord, recognized that people were struggling.

“The need is great,” he said.

But Nicolais came to the Capitol to oppose Gonzales’s bill, saying it could backfire against tenants.

Nicolais is a member of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver who teaches real estate and owns a half-dozen rental properties in the Denver area, none bigger than five units. He said he and other small landlords might find it difficult to keep up maintenance in the face of things like a hike in property taxes or storm damage to a property if they were constrained by “arbitrary” caps on rent, their income.  In other cities, he said, that has led small landlords, who often offer lower rents, to sell their properties to people who want to live in them or otherwise change the use. Removing units from the rental market would push rents up, he said.

“I’m here because I care about affordable housing. And this bill is a threat to affordable housing,” Nicolais said.

Wednesday’s hearing was rescheduled for this coming Monday. Then, lawmakers are likely to hear warring studies, judging from the people who came prepared to testify Wednesday.

Nicolais and the Apartment Association of Metro Denver referred to a study published last year in the National Bureau of Economic Research that compared a group of buildings under rent control in San Francisco with other buildings in that city that were not. The San Francisco researchers determined that tenants who might otherwise have been displaced from the city were able to stay because of rent control, but that over the long term landlords converted to condos and redeveloped buildings to escape rent control constraints.

But Sarah Treuhaft, managing director of the national think tank and advocacy group PolicyLink, said critiques of rent control are often unsubstantiated. Treuhaft appeared at the news conference organized by UNE and 9to5 with a copy of a report by her own organization, “Our Homes, Our  Future,” that concluded from the San Francisco study that “the problem is not rent control itself but loopholes that need to be closed.” The PolicyLink report also cited studies showing that tenants in rent-controlled housing move less frequently and are less likely to be forced to move.

Treuhaft said the housing affordability crisis requires a range of approaches, including rent control.

 

Updates previous with new hearing date set — April 15.

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