Some of the solutions state lawmakers have proposed to address Colorado’s twin crises — affordable housing and behavioral health — include adding beds to the state hospital, integrating mental care and facilities, providing grants and loans to developers, and helping mobile home residents stay housed.
It’s all part of a bipartisan plan to channel hundreds of millions of federal COVID-19 relief dollars toward behavioral health and affordable housing.
Lawmakers plan to allocate $850 million that Congress sent to Colorado through the American Rescue Plan Act, passed last spring. State lawmakers held a press conference Wednesday to introduce four bills that would spend some of the money. A handful of other bills were introduced in the past week, and more are yet to come. The legislation is based on recommendations from two task forces that met last fall and completed most of their work by the start of the legislative session in January.
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“It’s been a very exciting afternoon,” said Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat who chaired the Affordable Housing Transformation Task Force, on Wednesday. “This comes after months and months of work through the task forces.”
Affordable Housing Grants for Nonprofits and Local Governments
Roberts and Mary Bradfield, a Republican from Colorado Springs, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would spend $178 million of federal money in grants to help nonprofits and local governments add affordable housing and to provide cash assistance to people who are struggling to pay their rent. The sponsors of the bill in the Senate are Senators Julie Gonzales and James Coleman, both Democrats from Denver.
“Our housing capacity is not keeping pace with our housing needs,” Coleman said at the press conference. The bill would “make critical investments to improve the work of nonprofits and local governments across the state,” which lawmakers recognize as knowing the unique needs of their communities, he added.
Helping mobile home residents
Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, a Pueblo Democrat, pointed to another housing bill. It would aim to protect mobile home residents who may be displaced when a development changes hands or when landlords increase the cost of renting the land where their properties are located. The bill would earmark $35 million for existing programs to help empower mobile home owners and allow them to purchase their communities, Hinrichsen said at the press conference.
Other sponsors of the bill are Gonzales and Representatives Andrew Boesenecker, a Democrat from Fort Collins, and Mandy Lindsay, a Democrat from Aurora.
Housing Development Revolving Loan Fund
Senators Jeff Bridges, a Democrat from Greenwood Village, and Rachel Zenzinger, a Democrat from Arvada, introduce a bill that would dedicate $150 million to revolving loan funds for affordable housing, with House sponsors, Representatives David Ortiz, a Democrat from Littleton, and Perry. Will, a Republican from New Castle. A fund would provide low-interest or “below-market” loans to developers of affordable housing, helping them build apartments or homes for sale in communities where the pandemic has had a significant impact on the housing market . Another fund would provide loans for the purchase of existing affordable apartments and houses, by entities seeking to keep these units affordable.
Although the federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act is for one-time purposes, this bill would allow some of the money to be recycled and repurposed for new projects.
The bill would put homeownership “within the reach of our seniors, young professionals, new families, veterans with disabilities and many others,” Ortiz said.
Will said the bill would help create new housing for teachers, nurses and first responders who live in his northwest Colorado district. “This revolving fund will be self-sustaining over time, which is great,” he said. “It will build thousands of homes and create good jobs.
Affordable housing bills introduced last week would provide funds for innovative housing solutions and help “middle income” workers access housing.
Integration of primary care with behavioral health care
Will also works with Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Democrat from Lakewood, as well as the Senses. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Democrat from Boulder County, and Kevin Priola, a Republican from Henderson, on a bill that would invest $35 million in better integrating physical health care. with treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders, providing grants to primary care practices. This was one of the recommendations of the Behavioral Health Transformation Task Force.
Mental Health America’s 2022 State of Mental Health in America report, which used data from 2018-2019, ranked Colorado last overall for adult mental health.
“We all know Colorado’s behavioral health system needs work, which is why I’m proud to sponsor this important legislation,” said Jaquez Lewis. “This bill will help us recruit more people who will give us the essential help we need.”
“Mental Health is nonpartisan, so it’s a true bipartisan effort, and we’re working together,” Will pointed out. “Mental illness doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”
Addition of treatment beds for people with behavioral health needs
At Wednesday’s press conference, Rep. Judy Amabile, a Democrat from Boulder, spoke about her adult son, who “has been in and out of the hospital on short notice. He was homeless and he was involved in the criminal justice system.
“And it’s not just him,” she added. “That’s thousands of Coloradans” with unmet behavioral health needs.
Amabile is sponsoring a bill with Sens. Faith Winter, a Democrat from Westminster, and Jim Smallwood, a Republican from Parker, to add 16 beds at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Fort Logan for people with psychosis and serious mental illness. The bill would also create 125 new “Pull-Up Beds” where people can stay after leaving the emergency room.
Additional bills introduced last week would provide funding for other Behavioral Health Task Force priorities, including grants for local agencies and critical care.