Plan to pay people $500 to rent spare rooms rejected by Colorado Democrats

Older than 55? Got an extra room in your house? Colorado state Sen. Paul Lundeen wants the government to pay you $500 to rent it out.

But his idea is dead, for now, as a state Senate committee voted it down, 3-2, on Wednesday afternoon.

All three “no” votes came from Democrats, and both “yes” votes — including Lundeen’s — came from Republicans.

It’s not that he isn’t onto something, the Democrats said. Colorado is increasingly unaffordable to many, and housing shortages of hundreds of thousands of units squeeze people at low and medium income levels, in rural and urban communities alike.

“I get it. I get what you’re trying to do,” state Sen. Joann Ginal of Fort Collins, chair of the Local Government Committee, told Lundeen before the vote. “I see this bill as something that right now, in its present state, is not ready for primetime.”

Lundeen’s bill would have set up a three-year pilot program to provide one-time $500 incentive payments to homeowners at least 55 years old who rent space in their homes to tenants staying for at least six months. The bill would have cost up to $2 million — about a fifth of which would have gone to state administration of the program.

“We have an affordability-of-life crisis in Colorado,” Lundeen, of Monument, told The Denver Post ahead of the committee hearing. “Housing is one of the most painful pressure points in that crisis.

“We drafted (the bill) as a light-touch effort to catalyze a market of pre-existing housing stock and people who need a roof over their head. Like any marketplace, it must work for both the provider and the customer. That invisible hand instead of onerous government regulation is a way to dramatically and quickly get more people into affordable housing.”

As a member of the minority party at the Capitol, Lundeen faced an uphill climb all along, and his is far from the first GOP bill to intrigue Democrats before dying. One common cause of such deaths, to hear Democrats tell it, is that Republicans, aware they don’t have the numbers to pass their own bills, may sometimes be more interested in generating conversation and headlines than in passing well-vetted, impactful legislation.

“There’s a difference between bills that are stakeholded and done through a long process and have an identified funding source, and bills that kind of drop out of nowhere that are part of a press conference and don’t have dedicated funding,” said the Senate President, Boulder Democrat Steve Fenberg, ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

The Democrats on the committee agreed with Ginal and Fenberg that this one needed more work. Conifer’s Tammy Story said the bill encouraged “informal arrangements” between homeowners and tenants, and said she found the prospect of such arrangements “a little frightening.” She also said that if the bill really had merit, it would’ve been thought of already by the legislative task force on affordable housing, which this week debuted several bills that will make use of a historic influx of federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Chris Kolker of Centennial said he’s worried about the potential for self-dealing among family members under Lundeen’s plan. He conceded that this could probably be resolved through amendments and further discussion, and said his greater concern is the cost of the program.

Ginal, herself over 55 and a landlord, said the bill lacked adequate protections for those who’d be involved in the rental arrangements Lundeen proposed.

“I don’t want anyone to be abused, to be taken advantage of,” she said.

Lundeen repeatedly asked his colleagues to work with him to fix the problems they perceived. He also told The Post that he had at least one Democrat — Gov. Jared Pols — who liked his plan and was ready to work on it. The governor’s staff did not respond to a request for comment on the bill.

The second Republican on the committee, Larry Liston of Colorado Springs, said it’s not fair to cry foul on the bill’s price tag, since that money could help create a few thousand new housing options for a state that badly needs them.

“I think this is a good, fair, honest attempt,” he said. “This isn’t even a rounding error in the budget here in Colorado.”

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