Polis vetoes bill giving governments ‘right of first refusal’ to buy apartments

Critics feared it would distort and disrupt the multi-housing market, while supporters said it would have been another tool for creating affordable housing.
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 1:25 PM MDT
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DENVER (KUSA) — Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would have given local governments the right to first buy apartment complexes that was among a slew of legislation supporters said would provide long-term, affordable housing in Colorado.

The bill sought to create a “right of first refusal” — meaning a property owner could only sell an apartment complex, for example, if the municipality or county where it is located refused to purchase it first.

Nearly two-thirds of state legislators liked the bill enough to pass it. One of the bill’s sponsors said the governor liked the idea to help with an affordable housing crunch.

“We understood him to be comfortable with the bill and willing to sign it,” said Rep. Emily Sirota, a Democrat who represents parts of Arapahoe and Denver counties.

Under the measure, local governments would match offers on apartment buildings in hopes they would turn those units into affordable housing.

“This would have been one important tool to address this crisis,” Sirota said.

Critics feared the bill would distort and disrupt the multifamily housing market, while supporters said it would be another tool in not only creating affordable housing but also in preventing the loss of such units.

Mike Kopp, president and CEO of the business group Colorado Concern, said the bill’s enactment would have “dramatically hurt investment in Colorado’s multi-family housing market, ultimately limiting supply, the key driver of lowering prices.”

In his veto letter, Polis said he was “not supportive of a required right of refusal that adds costs and time to transactions.”

“Any time that you wish to change the status quo for business, they always say ‘Oh, you’re going to ruin the x economy here,’ " Sirota said.

The governor wrote that he was “disappointed” stakeholders came to him after the session to express their concern. Those stakeholders include Colorado Concern.

“It’s that move from private property ownership to government ownership that sort of was the initial thing that we looked at,” Kopp said.

He said as time passed, they learned more reasons to dislike the bill.

“Colorado Concern came in behind the scenes, has the governor’s ear, and got their way,” Sirota said.

“Yeah, I don’t know exactly what that means,” Kopp said. “I’ve never spoken to the governor about this bill, ever. The first time I communicated with the governor was through that letter that we sent him. The fact of the matter is that we have divided power for a reason in our country.”

Polis wrote that going forward, he wants stakeholders to express concerns during the legislative process.