Why Proposed Amendment 74 is Bad for Seniors and the Disabled in Colorado

Colorado voters are being asked to vote on Amendment 74 which proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

“require the state or a local government to compensate a property owner if a law or regulation reduces the fair market value of his or her property”.

This amendment is heavily supported by the oil and gas industry as a counter to proposed Amendment 112, which would require increased setbacks for new oil and gas development from populated areas, water sources, and vulnerable areas.

While the fight over oil and gas development blazes in Colorado, Amendment 74 has other, more broad reaching consequences for the state and local governments, tax payers, and the disabled.  

Amendment 74 would result in a substantial revision to the law on “regulatory takings”. Colorado law currently allows compensation to a property owner if (1) the government takes your property (eminent domain), (2) the government damages your property, or (3) the government enacts a law or regulation that deprives the owner of the use or value of their property (regulatory taking). These protections provide property owners with the certainty that they will not be stripped of their land or will not be able to use it toward some valuable purpose without receiving just compensation.

 However, Proposed Amendment 74 will require that the government (read – tax payers) pay a property owner if there is any reduction in the fair market value of the property. This language goes far, far beyond the compensation required for a regulatory taking and will certainly result in a vast number of lawsuits and claims for compensation over the most basic planning and other government decisions.

So how will this affect seniors and the disabled?

Anyone attempting to establish a group home of any kind – be it for the elderly or other groups classified as disabled under federal law – knows full well the effects of the “NOT IN MY BACKYARD” syndrome. Neighboring homeowners’ first argument against group homes is that the group home will reduce the value of nearby properties. While ample evidence proves that this is false and, time after time, group homes are shown to be lovely neighbors, the “loss of property value” arguments continue unabated.  

Amendment 74 adds fuel to the NIMBY fire. It also potentially pits a state constitutional amendment against federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination against enumerated protected classes, including the disabled. Congress and the courts have recognized that the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act is a clear pronouncement of a national commitment to end the unnecessary exclusion of disabled people from the American mainstream and to provide an equal opportunity for them to live in single-family neighborhoods.

 But neighbors who complain so vehemently about having the elderly or disabled in their neighborhoods will use Amendment 74 to file suit – frivolous or morally bereft as those suits may be – against local governments who decide to allow this use. NIMBY property owners will argue that even if a group home is allowed by the Fair Housing Amendments Act, Amendment 74 mandates that they be compensated for a perceived loss in property value.

This will disincentivize local government officials from creating favorable zoning for group homes or issuing reasonable accommodation decisions. It may even cause a waning in support from other neighbors who do not oppose the group home, but have no desire as tax payers to pay to fight a lawsuit seeking compensation for the NIMBYs.  

The general effect of Amendment 74 will be to hamstring local government planners and cost taxpayers unbelievable sums of money in legal battles and compensation payments to landowners who claim a “reduction in fair market value” from a planning decision. The specific effect on the disabled will be to once again relegate them to institutional settings and deprive them of participation in mainstream residential American life.  

It’s worth noting that Oregon approved a similar initiative in 2004. Over just a few years, several billion dollars in claims were filed against state and local governments. Public coffers were in ruin and taxpayers said enough and repealed the measure.

In 2006, Washington voters rejected a measure like Amendment 74 when a University of Washington study revealed that nearly $8 billion in claims could be filed, costing more than $1,000 per resident.

In continued defense of seniors and the disabled, I urge a “NO” vote on Amendment 74.