Nearly half of Colorado’s House Democrats have signed on to a bill that would allow local governments to enact rent control, repealing a decades-old prohibition and setting up a potential showdown with Gov. Jared Polis.

HB23-1115 does not institute any rent control or stabilization policies statewide. But it removes a state-level block on local officials rolling out one of their own, and it comes as lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis weigh an array of legislation to address Colorado’s growing housing crisis.

“Rents are too high,” said Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Denver Democrat, eviction attorney and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “And that does not just mean essential workers like grocery store workers and servers. It’s unaffordable for teachers and nurses.”

Mabrey, a freshman lawmaker, is joined by fellow Democrat Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, of Glenwood Springs, as prime sponsors in the House. Twenty other members — all Democrats — have also signed on. That list includes nearly all of the chamber’s leadership, including Majority Leader Monica Duran, Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon and the House’s two whips, Reps. Iman Jodeh and Andy Boesenecker.

Supporters cast rent control not as a silver bullet to Colorado’s housing affordability crisis but as a tool that should be available to local officials. Mabrey said he supported ongoing debates about land-use reform — intended to increase the supply of housing statewide — but that affordability must be included in that policy discussion.

If enacted, the bill would allow local authorities to take a firmer hand in regulating rent increases. In Oregon, where there’s a statewide rent control policy, landlords can only increase rent by 7% plus inflation in a given year. St. Paul recently enacted a rent control policy capping increases at 3%, though officials there have since taken steps to loosen that policy and allow for exemptions.

It’s unclear if local governments would take up that mantle. Kevin Bommer, the executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the group was monitoring the legislation and would consider a formal position in the future. But he noted that no local official has come forward to ask the league to address the state prohibition, and he said the organization has a good relationship with the Colorado Apartment Association, a vocal opponent of rent control.

Boesenecker sponsored a bill last session that would’ve enacted rent stabilization policies for mobile-home parks, a first foray into price controls. But that provision was stripped out of the bill after Polis signaled that he would veto the bill if it included rent stabilization.

Polis remains a primary obstacle to this latest push, supporters and opponents say. In a statement to the Post in December, his office reiterated his skepticism to rent control, warning of its unintended consequence of actually increasing rent. The Colorado Apartment Association’s opposition is also well known: Senior Vice President Drew Hamrick told the Post on Tuesday that “price controls are an old and bad idea.” He and other critics have warned that limiting rent increases will cause new development to crater.

Mabrey said he was having ongoing conversations with Polis’s office. A similar effort to repeal the prohibition, which dates back to 1981, died in the Senate in 2019.

This latest attempt, introduced Monday, has been referred to the House’s Transportation, Housing and Local Government committee — recently renamed to include housing in a nod to the issue’s urgency. Rep. Meg Froelich, the chair of that committee, declined to comment on the bill Tuesday but said she anticipated a “robust discussion” around housing affordability in general.

Hamrick predicted in December that a prohibition repeal would likely make it out of the House and that he hoped to kill it in the Senate, thus avoiding any showdown between Polis and Democratic lawmakers.

Senate President Steve Fenberg told reporters Tuesday morning that ending the rent control prohibition would likely divide Senate Democrats.

As for his own position, Fenberg, of Boulder, said he thought “communities should have the right to make those decisions for themselves. It’s different in every community.” But he stressed that it should be a more nuanced discussion than a yes-or-no on rent control.

Asked about potential opposition in the Senate, Mabrey pointed to Democrats’ recent electoral success as proof that voters wanted them to address housing.

“Colorado elected almost a supermajority in the Colorado Senate because they understand that Democrats are there to fight for the working class,” he said. “The number one issue (in the election) was the economy, and they elected us. And within that, the number one issue is housing. This is a housing issue, and I think that my colleagues in the Senate understand that.”

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