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Colorado lawmaker drafts bill to increase accessory dwelling units after her son is kicked out of her garage apartment

State lawmaker drafts bill to increase accessory dwelling units
State lawmaker drafts bill to increase accessory dwelling units 03:33

When State Rep. Judy Amabile built a small apartment above her detached garage in Boulder, she knew it wasn't legal. But she was desperate to give her son — who couldn't live safely in her home — a place to stay.

Six months after he moved in, she says, the city kicked him out.

State Rep. Judy Amabile. CBS

"But the big deal was he couldn't even sleep here because it isn't a legal place to live," Amabile explained. "Because we had to adjust immediately, and we didn't have time to figure out a place for him to live. He ended up homeless at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless."

That experience is part of what drove Amabile to draft a bill giving most homeowners in the state the right to have an accessory dwelling unit or ADU if they want one. 

"A lot of people are in situations that are similar to mine, where they have a loved one that maybe they would like to take care of," Amabile said. "But they don't want to all live together, or people whose property tax bills are going through the roof, and they need a little extra income, and I think people should be able to us their property in that way, and I did not get complaints from my neighbors."

Under the bill, which Amabile says is still not finalized, any city with 1,000 or more residences would have to allow accessory dwelling units. But local governments would have some say over regulations regarding height restrictions, for example, setbacks and parking. The bill also includes money to incentivize more affordable ADU rentals, including low-cost construction loans for homeowners and compensation for cities that lower permit fees to encourage that construction.

"It's a carrot and a stick," Amabile says.

She says the units could also help homeowners offset rising property taxes.

"It's not the solution to our housing problem, but it is a tool, and it is also like a property rights issue," Amabile said. 

While Boulder has legalized ADUs since her son moved out, she says, she'd still need to spend $10,000 on a sprinkler system for her 275-foot space to get approval, so it continues to sit empty.

Kevin Bommer, head of the Colorado Municipal League, says any bill that pre-empts local land use authority, which is constitutional for home rule municipalities, will be viewed "dimly." The Municipal League helped kill a land-use bill that was pushed by Gov. Jared Polis last legislative session. It was aimed at increasing affordable housing in a variety of ways including more accessory dwelling units.

The governor earmarked $65 million for affordable housing efforts in his latest budget request. 

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