Affordable housing


With the average single family home price exceeding one million dollars, it's no surprise that access to affordable housing is one of the biggest issues we face as a community.  Even those making 150% of area median income find it challenging to live in Boulder - this means it is nearly impossible for our teachers, nurses, law enforcement, artists, service workers, and many more to afford to live in the town in which they work.  For those who do live here, affording house payments remains a struggle for many. Over 40% of Boulder residents spend more than 50% of their income on housing. Studies show that we shouldn't spend more than 30% of our income on housing and when we go beyond that number, key necessities take a back seat. Food insecurity, homelessness, and lack of quality health care are directly related to housing prices. It is well established that the health of a city is connected to how effectively it supports its most vulnerable community members, and stable and accessible housing is the most impactful way to provide support.  

The current landscape:

To address the problem of lack of affordability, the City of Boulder largely relies on developers in both commercial and residential sectors. We were early to adopt an Inclusionary Housing (IH) ordinance which requires that new residential development contribute at least 20% of the total units as permanently affordable housing. We recently adopted a $12 per square foot commercial linkage fee for all new commerical development due to the pressure that additional jobs place on housing.  We also have some tax funding for affordable housing, a land bank program, and we engage in partnerships with our local housing authority and other non-profits dedicated to affordable housing.

Where we need to improve:

1. Seek opportunities for zoning overlays in industrial & commercial areas so as to allow housing units on top of existing spaces without a net loss of the industrial or commercial space. These overlays would be in exchange for affordable housing and would ideally be made available first to the employees of the existing businesses.  In doing this, we could reduce the opportunity for future commercial growth and create automatic "15 minute neighborhoods."  A perfect example of where this opportunity might exist is at Wilderness Place. This commercial/industrial area is already home to fabulous businesses, breweries, a bakery, and art studios, plus is located near major bike and car transit ways.  Most of the buildings are one story so we could easily build housing above them.   

2. Give power to the people in low density neighborhoods. About 83% of all residentially zoned land is zoned "low density."  Within those neighborhoods, homeowners have very little flexibility around what they can build on their properties. Our current code makes it easy to teardown a modest sized older home and build a large new home (since 2010, median size of new homes replacing teardowns is 5,151 square feet), but it is difficult to build creative and affordable housing instead. Here is an example: Many Boulder homeowners desire to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property in order to house aging parents or to age in place themselves, but they are turned down again and again. Let's change that and allow owner occupants more flexibility to build ADUs.  Here is another example: The average single family lot size in Boulder is around 6,000 square feet, but there are hundreds of homes on 12,000+ square foot lots. Many of these larger-lot homeowners would like to add a tiny home to their land, which would help increase affordable housing options. These homeowners are also turned down again and again. Why are we relying so heavily on developers to help solve our affordable housing problem in medium & high density zones, when those zones only account for only 16% of our residentially zoned land? If elected to City Council, I will work to give the power back to the people to be more flexible and creative in addressing housing affordability on their own land.

3. Seek opportunities to build market rate affordable housing where possible. "Market rate affordable" seems like an oxymoron in Boulder, but it is possible - and it's necessary in order to create more accessible housing options for everyone.  As a City, we place a good deal of emphasis on building deed restricted permanently affordable housing - I am all for that, but we also must recognize that our permanently affordable program is not "one size fits all." For ownership units especially, our permanently affordable housing can be incredibly prohibitive. You must apply; you must take two classes; you must have strong enough credit to qualify for a home loan; you must wait one month to find out if your lottery number was chosen; this whole process can take a year or more, plus your home has limited appreciation.  Since the cost of land is so high in Boulder, one of our best opportunities to build additional market rate affordable housing is to acquire land and create communities where the land and the improvements (the homes) have been separated.  This is the model that mobile home communities use, and it is one that could be applied to many kinds of housing types, from single family to tiny homes, and beyond.  If elected to City Council, I will work to encourage the construction of more market rate affordable housing.

4. Tax AND incentivize. The most effective public policy measures are ones which tax (or place fees) on what IS NOT wanted and provide incentives for what IS wanted. The tax + incentivize model is used in cities of all sizes all across the country and is considered best practice in many arenas, including the development of affordable housing. Boulder has done an excellent job on the tax/fee part, but we have not simultaneously incentivized affordable housing development.  If elected to City Council, I will work to incentivize affordable housing though expedited review processes and reduced development fees for affordable units. 

Above are just a few proposals. In brief, here are a other areas I would like to focus on if elected to City Council:

  • Acquire and preserve existing homes/complexes & make them affordable
  • Create additional funding sources for affordable housing (this is especially important given cuts at the federal level)
  • Create stronger regional partnerships & goals
  • Beef up our H2O down payment assistance program