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Lawmaker: Bill Will Help Rural Affordable Housing, Businesses

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) - State lawmakers are considering a first-of-its-kind effort to help with Colorado's affordable housing crunch, especially in rural areas.

"Obviously there's a challenge with this because its new. It's like blazing a trail and then other people can drive a wagon on that trail later. But blazing this trail ... it's going to be pretty divided," said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Chaffee County, who is sponsoring the bill.

Wilson says it would go a long way toward helping not only with affordable housing, but business expansion in rural Colorado.

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(credit: CBS)

"There's really a tremendous asset to it as far as the economic development piece of it because right now, particularly in rural Colorado, employers are pretty well stretched," Wilson said. "They would like to be able to expand but they're not really able to do that … and those that are, there's no place for the people to live if they can get them to move in."

The bill would allow employers or a group of employers to donate a minimum of $10,000 to a nonprofit in exchange for a tax credit. That nonprofit would then help the businesses' employees with housing, including providing rental subsidies, down payment assistance, and low-income mortgages.

It's estimated the state would give $3 million in tax credits a year.

"The bottom line is when you have a tax credit at the state level, people will say, 'Well, you're giving up that money, so what do we do?' Well obviously, if you expand your business you'll have employees who pay income tax and the coffers be refilled," Wilson said.

The bill only applies to employees whose adjusted income is less than 120 percent of the median income of the geographic area of the household's employer. It would start in communities with 50,000 residents or less.

"It is geared for rural but actually by definition that includes about 48 counties out of the 64 counties, so we're talking about the overwhelming majority of the counties in the state of Colorado that will be affected by this. The question about the urban areas, they have a lot more tools in the toolbox than we do in the rural areas, but I strongly suspect, should this go through and become law, we'll see the urban areas coming back with a sequel saying, 'What about us?'"

The bill passed the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee 8-5, but still has a long way to go to become law.

"It just amazes me that this is an attempt to address the affordable housing challenge we have across the state of Colorado and there are people who just aren't comfortable doing something, and I guess we'll go back home and do nothing which hasn't worked very well for us," Wilson said.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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