State lawmakers, Biden administration try to ease affordable housing shortage for families

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Posted at 4:24 PM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 20:44:21-04

DENVER — There’s a funny thing about dreams. They can be so close and yet so far away.

For about a year, Nache Emanuel’s dream has been to own a home. She’s applied for loans, gotten her credit up, gotten a certificate for taking a home buying class from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and more.

Emanuel wants to live in the community she grew up in and where she currently works as a childcare provider. Yet, she can’t seem to grasp that dream.

Every time Emanuel puts a bid on a home, she’s outbid by people with more buying power than her.

“It may have been like $5,000, $10,000 over the amount. Sometimes there was even a couple of homes that were over $25,000 or $30,000 over the amount of what I had qualified for,” Emanuel said. “I'm not sure about just having $50,000 laying around or anything like that.”

In a thick, worn-looking orange folder, Emanual has documented her entire journey since she started looking for a home last year. In it, there’s a copy of that CHFA certificate she received, notes about the homes she’s lost out on, her loan paperwork and even notes about her feelings each time she falls in love with a house and each time she loses out on owning it.

“I want to say I've tried on at least 20 homes, at least 20 homes. And I have not got one yes, not yet,” Emanual said.

The struggle to buy a home is by no means unique. Across the state, thousands of families are trying to do the same thing, and thousands are losing out on that opportunity.

In an effort to help, this year, Colorado lawmakers passed a package of bills aimed at spending $400 million on affordable housing. The money, which came to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act, would offer loans and grants to build more housing and would support modular housing companies.

Another bill is aimed at helping middle-income families by creating the Middle Income Housing Authority in the state.

“It's to make sure that the folks that are just earning an average wage here — your nurses, your teachers, or firefighters — that they can afford to live in the communities where they work,” said Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Arapahoe, the newly passed bill’s co-sponsor.

The goal of the program is to create incentives for private investors to create and maintain housing for families making between 80 and 120 percent of the area’s median income. It would use municipal bonds that are tax free to create a market incentive for developers, nonprofits, housing authorities, local governments and more to create housing for those families.

“The cost of housing has gone up so much that the average Colorado family can't afford the average Colorado house,” Bridges said.

The Middle Income Housing Authority would have the power to issue bonds for affordable rental housing projects, enter into public-private partnerships for affordable rental housing projects, provide assistance to tenants to transition to home ownership and more.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced Monday its own Housing Supply Action Plan to help close the housing supply gap in five years.

Among other things, the Biden administration’s plan calls for:

  • Rewarding areas that have reformed their zoning and land-use policies
  • Develop financing mechanisms to build and preserve more housing
  • Support more modular housing construction
  • Making loans more widely available for affordable multifamily housing development and preservation
  • Ensuring that government-owned homes go to people who will actually live in them
  • Work with the private sector on addressing supply chain issues.

The move is just the latest step by President Joe Biden to begin to rein in inflation in the country — something he said was one of his top priorities in a speech last week.

The need for more affordable homes is something Kinsey Hasstedt knows a lot about. She is the state and local policy director for Enterprise Community Partners, and last year, she was part of a state-organized working group tasked with taking a closer look at the lack of affordable housing in Colorado to come up with solutions.

“We have seen a huge drop-off in the production of new affordable homes and we haven’t been able to preserve current affordability in places that it exists,” Hasstedt said.

One of the biggest issues she’s noticed is a lack of public investments in affordable housing for years, something she says other states have simply been doing better than Colorado.

“I think what we see at the bottom of it is a need to produce and preserve meaningfully affordable homes all along the housing continuum, including rental and for sale homes, and making sure that folks are able to get into and stay into those units,” Hasstedt said.

Her group helped craft some of the bipartisan housing legislation that passed this year. She’s excited about the Biden administration’s announcement as well, saying that while the change may not be immediate, it could be meaningful.

Hasstedt hopes it will help close the surplus gap not only in Colorado but across the country.

As for Emanuel, despite the hurdles, she’s trying to stay positive, determined to find a home of her very own in a difficult housing market. She hopes this journey will inspire her four kids to continue to pursue their dreams, no matter the obstacles.

“I want to be able to have that generational wealth, the American Dream that everybody talks about. But right now, it just seems like that dream is really out of reach,” Emanuel said. “I want them to be able to see that, hey, if my mom can do it, I could do it as well.”