Housing for all people - not just the wealthy - is an urgent priority for Boulder and many cities along the Front Range. A recent community survey showed that ~70% of respondents felt that increasing the amount of affordable housing was an urgent need for Boulder. Boulder has an Area Median Income (AMI) of ~$70,000, and with the average home price over $1 million and average rent of over $1,000/month there is a shortage in affordable housing for individuals, couples and/or families that make a decent living. COVID has only exacerbated these stresses on people trying to make it in Boulder, and we should do all we can to provide more opportunities for those who live, work, and play in our community. We are witnessing the decline of the young Boulder family and Boulder is shifting towards being a wealthy retirement community. Based on the 2020 census and recent enrollment data from the Boulder Valley School District, that is the direction our population is heading. Since 2012 the population of Boulder residents under 18 has declined by roughly 4%. Some BVSD schools located on the west side of the district (west of Foothills) are struggling with enrollment, while the east side of the district (east of Foothills) is seeing steady growth. This growth is to be expected given the housing and population growth in Louisville, Lafayette, and the surrounding areas. The enrollment in schools on the west side of town are showing indicators of the area being choked off from young families not being able to afford living in the area. We can turn the tide if we invest in our values.
Land Use and Zoning:
Land use and zoning are at the nexus of so many issues within our city. Our climate action and resiliency is heavily dependent on how we use our land and build a connected community. Walkable 15 minute neighborhoods blend our housing, transportation, equity policies, and values. All in all, the policies we set around our land use and zoning can either close off Boulder and keep it the way it is, or unlock our potential to make Boulder better off than we found it.
Given that nearly 80% of Boulder is zoned for single family housing, there are plenty of zoning issues to tackle to make Boulder a more inclusive community. I want to focus on incremental changes that improve our affordability and foster more inclusive neighborhoods. Adding housing needs to be done so synergistically with our transportation goals and infrastructure. I’d like to know where we can add housing while minimizing vehicle miles. While gentle and gradual infill should be examined as a possibility throughout Boulder, I want to start with those areas nearest our transit corridors, such as how the city has adopted Co-Op housing and ADUs (accessory dwelling units). Both Co-Ops and ADUs are proven to be viable ways to increase affordability throughout the community. I would like the city to consider incrementally increasing these programs. Incrementally adding to successful programs gives us the ability to regulate these policies. We may get to a point where we reach saturation or start to see unintended consequences. I want the City to have the flexibility not just to increase them but also to decrease them.
Reducing or eliminating parking minimums for new housing developments is another key factor in how we use our land. If we are placing housing along transit corridors and community infrastructure (grocery stores, restaurants, etc.) then we do not need this housing to be full of parking as we are intrinsically creating walkable 15-minute neighborhoods with access to public transportation. By reducing or removing said parking, we then free up developers to provide more units or open spaces on the site. This is a prime example of the synergies between land use, zoning, and transportation.
Boulder is about halfway to its goal of 15% of the housing inventory being designated affordable housing by 2035. Recent success with the Waterview project on East Arapahoe and the Diagonal Plaza redevelopment at 28th and Iris are all encouraging signs that we are recognizing the urgency of our housing crisis and starting to pick up the pace in meeting this challenge. However, more needs to be done. Boulder only has a few large concentrated properties left that can make a big dent in our housing goals, while injecting much needed revitalization to areas across Boulder. One outstanding area that is ripe for revitalization is that of the old community hospital site that has become known as "Alpine/Balsam." After an unsuccessful attempt to get mixed use housing at this site, we need to act with more urgency to get this project done. The annexation of CU South offers another great opportunity to add nearly 1,100 units of housing aimed at CU upperclassmen, staff, and faculty. With most of CU's workforce living outside the city, this could be a way to reduce our collective carbon footprint by reducing in-commuting.
In conjunction with increasing affordable housing, we also must be intentional with increasing middle income housing. While the City receives state and federal tax incentives and grants to support affordable housing, middle income housing does not have such support systems. Leveraging these funds means that for every dollar the city spends, it can get $2-5 dollars in return to create affordable housing. Unfortunately we do not have such a breath of tools and resources to increase our supply of middle income housing. But that doesn't mean we don't have tools at our disposal. The most important tool we have is that of zoning and land use. I think of the many young working families that want a few bedrooms and a little space outside for the kiddos to run around. We simply don't have many options that are affordable to middle incomes here in Boulder and this contributes to the decreased enrollment we’re seeing in our schools. One solution is that of duplexes and quadplexes. This would allow us to divide up the inherently expensive land and spread the cost out over two or more residences, which would dramatically improve affordability. Policy changes like this should be done incrementally and focus on areas near transit corridors and schools in order to align our actions with our values of being an inclusive and diverse community.