The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the United States. With a rising death toll that currently stands at 238,000, it has laid bare the inequities and flaws of our health care system, and exacerbated pre-existing racial and economic inequalities. Housing has particularly been a hard-hit area of life for many Americans as widespread job losses and underemployment has inhibited many from finding the money necessary to pay for housing. As Congress continues to debate a second stimulus package, states and localities are trying to find new funding sources to meet the hike in demand for affordable housing brought about by the pandemic. In Colorado, one of those ideas is a tax on tobacco products.
Colorado, like most other states, faces a daunting housing affordability crisis. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, more than 165,000 Colorado renter households make less than 30 percent of the area median income, and 74 percent of them are severely cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than half their income on housing. At the same time, the state faces a shortage of 114,940 rental units that are affordable and available for extremely low-income renters. The housing shortage had Coloradans struggling even before the COVID-19 crisis, but the pandemic has worsened the plight of low-income Coloradans even more. A report from the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit think tank, found that 18 percent of Colorado renters were at risk of eviction, and predicted that by the fourth quarter of 2020, that number would rise to 25 percent.