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Solution to lack of affordable, available housing proposed in Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) --The key to building more houses, apartments and other dwellings to meet the growing demand, and to make them more affordable, is switching to a uniform building code across the state, a Denver-area group proposed Monday.

The Common Sense Institute, a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting the state's economy, spoke during an afternoon Housing for All forum attended by local leaders and held at Centennial Hall.

During the forum, two CSI researchers -- Peter LiFari Evelyn Lim -- explained that a uniform building code would save time and money in regards to building homes, apartments and other forms of housing.

"It's very clear that by not having a statewide building code, we are adding additional time, money, waste of materials and opportunity costs," LiFari said. "That goes to the developer, and to the end user -- us. It goes to the Coloradan who's trying to buy a home for $350,000."

Lim said that allowing builders to use 3D printing and other newer methods would further increase construction efficiency and save money for home buyers.

"We haven't really revolutionized the housing industry," she said. "It's one of the last industries to do that. And by allowing these innovative technologies, we could really drive the costs of housing down."

According to the CSI, Colorado has the nation's fourth-worst housing shortage -- mainly because construction hasn't kept up with demand since the 2008 recession -- and the eighth-highest rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

"El Paso County would have to build 7,300 housing units a year to keep up," LiFari said. "But it also takes from three to five years to build a housing project from start to finish. And 30% to 40% of new home costs is labor."

El Paso County already has a uniform building code, but having one throughout the state would help other areas where the affordability and availability of housing is an issue, CSI said.

Housing has become a crisis in the Colorado Springs area, as -- despite the COVID-19 pandemic -- the average cost of a home approaches $500,000.

Half of the two-hour forum was devoted to a presentation by Tatiana Bailey, an economist at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, who talked about the area's economy and factors that could further impact the housing market.

"The availability of workers, especially skilled workers, is going to be a concern moving forward," she said. "The thing that concerns me from a housing affordability perspective, is there's kind of no going back. Once you become unaffordable, it's very difficult to reverse that perception."

The CSI's Housing Development Blueprint would rely less on the existing private homebuilding industry and more on land donations, government funding and support from politicians and business leader to do a demonstration project.

Under the project, the state would declare a temporary state of emergency to suspend existing building codes and follow one code and a single group of design standards for all jurisdictions.

"It's something that industry experts and local leaders would have to agree on," LiFari said.

The CSI said it developed the idea after studying how Florida changed its building code in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and a demonstration project is currently under way in Telluride.

Kevin Walker, a local housing industry expert with Walker Schooler District Managers, says he'd like to see the CSI plan work -- but wonders if it actually will.

"It's a very complex industry and affected by things we can't control -- such as demand and the cost of construction materials," he said. "It's not just one issue, just like the solution isn't just one answer. There are places in the state that are not interested in growth, or helping growth. I don't think that's the case here in El Paso County. I think we'll attack the problem and do fine."

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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