Condo construction: One of three bills to boost affordable housing moves forward

Update: Of three bills aimed at addressing the dearth of condo construction in the metro area, only one still survives. That bill, Senate Bill 220, would push homeowners and builders toward arbitration rather than litigation in cases where the homeowners' units suffer from construction defects. State Senator Jessie Ulibarri introduced Senate Bill 220 last week, along with two other bills. Both of those bills were quickly voted down, but Senate Bill 220 survived the Senate Committee on State, Veteran and Military Affairs on Monday in a 3-to-2 vote. The bill now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee, though Ulibarri says that given the late timing -- the legislative session ends tomorrow night -- there's no chance that it will become law this year.

For more on Ulibarri's bills, read our original post below.

Original post, May 2, 12:50 p.m.: Three bills aimed at addressing the dearth of condo construction in the metro area -- one of which has already been killed -- were introduced this week by state Senator Jessie Ulibarri, along with other lawmakers. The issue, Ulibarri says, is that expensive construction defect lawsuits are driving up the cost of building affordable multi-family, owner-occupied housing, which is bad news for working families in Ulibarri's Adams County district. It's the same issue we explored in our 2013 feature, "Design Flaw."

With just four weekdays left in the legislative session, do the remaining bills have a chance? "Time is our biggest challenge right now," says Ulibarri, a Westminster Democrat. The reason the bills were introduced so late, he says, is because he and other supporters were in "last-minute negotiations" with the lawyers who represent homeowners in construction defect lawsuits, as well as the homeowners associations themselves. Ulibarri says that even though he wasn't able to gain their support in the end, he decided he should introduce the bills anyway.

"The important thing is that we're having this conversation," he says. "Only 2 percent of housing starts in the metro area are multi-family, owner-occupied." Nationally, he says that number is 20 percent.

Here's a summary of the three bills, also on view in their entirety below. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to "postpone indefinitely" Senate Bill 219. More on that below.

Senate Bill 220: This bill, which was introduced on Wednesday, would do several things. For one, it would no longer allow homeowners associations alleging that their condo complexes have construction defects, such as leaky windows, to vote to skip binding arbitration and move directly to a lawsuit. If an HOA's contract with the builder specifies that disputes should be settled by arbitration, the bill would require that they follow that rule unless both parties agree that a lawsuit would be better.

The bill would also require that a majority of homeowners vote to pursue legal action, instead of just the HOA board. And before they do, they would have to be informed of all of the potential benefits and drawbacks of such an action, including that it may be difficult or impossible to refinance or sell their units while the action is pending.

Senate Bill 220 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Monday, May 5 at 1:30 p.m.

Senate Bill 219: This bill, which was introduced on Tuesday and killed on Thursday, would have directed the Colorado Division of Housing to study "what is causing the lack of availability of owner-occupied affordable housing in Colorado, as well as the lack of construction of this type of housing."

But at a hearing on Thursday, the seven members of the Senate Appropriations Committee weren't all convinced that such a study was needed.

"I think there's quite a bit of data out there," said Senator Pat Steadman. "The idea that we need to spend $125,000 studying something that there's a hue and cry about and a lot of evidence of a problem already, I'm sort of questioning."

The committee voted 5 to 2 to kill the bill.

Senate Bill 216: This bill, which was introduced on Monday, would create a cash fund within the Division of Housing to provide insurance premium rebates to developers that build affordable multi-family, owner-occupied housing.

Senate Bill 216 was passed by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday and is now before the full Senate.

Continue for more, including a statement from a group opposed to SB 220.
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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar

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