Housing affordability is a critical issue facing Boulder.
While Boulder has made solid strides in housing for low-income people up to 30% AMI (Area Median Income), there is still much more to do. We want teachers, nurses, and firefighters to be able to live in Boulder. Since I am a volunteer firefighter, and I work with professional firefighters, I have insights into these issues that I would bring to Council. My campaign manager, Mary Scott, is a nurse practitioner. Mary’s invaluable input into the needs of the nursing community has also informed my perspective.
I’m also an alumnus of Thistle Affordable Housing. I was able to save for the future while living at Thistle. I subsequently purchased a home with my husband Luke. So I’ve lived, first-hand, the challenges of trying to live in Boulder, and the benefits of affordable housing. Now I’m living home ownership. This combination of perspectives will help me bring the community together on housing issues.
Clearly, people in the 30% to 60% range of AMI are in great need of help. In addition, moderate income people – traditionally considered to be between 60%-120% of AMI – feel that housing that’s affordable to them is also scarce. We also want to preserve this middle income housing so that Boulder doesn’t experience a hollowing out of the middle class.
Almost everyone advocates for more affordable housing for both lower-income and middle-income people, but there is disagreement about how to achieve that goal.
The core of differing viewpoints about affordable housing is that some people think that widespread density and extensive development is the answer. In contrast, others feel it’s important that development be sensitive to neighborhood character and the aesthetic “feel” of Boulder’s architecture. I believe that more housing is needed, but I feel that it should embody these sensitivities. I also recognize that new housing in Boulder commands such high prices that, without specific programs to prevent it from happening, building more will just lead to more high-priced housing. If that happens, we will not have achieved our goal of creating affordability.
I am dedicated to improving affordability with creative, win-win approaches that do not involve runaway growth, increased traffic, and loss of unique neighborhood character.
Here are some ideas I support:
Preserve Existing Affordable Housing. We need to preserve the affordable housing stock that we have. I support efforts to keep affordable multi-unit areas like the EastPointe property, rather than seeing them sold and flipped as high-priced housing. In addition, there are many struggling middle to lower-middle income residents trying to stay in Boulder. But they fall into a “donut hole” for which there are not robust programs. I believe it would be better to keep people in their housing, rather than them losing that housing, having it re-sold or re-rented at sky-high rates, and then trying to find affordable housing for these newly-displaced residents.
Inclusionary Housing Improvements. Currently, developers of new housing in Boulder are required to build 20% permanently affordable housing (also known as inclusionary housing). I would do two things here to further Boulder’s affordable housing goals, in ways that would create greater widespread buy-in from the community:
- I would ask developers to build a higher percentage of affordable housing, in order to increase the amount we have. Currently, the “split” in the inclusionary housing required of new Boulder housing developments is 80/20 (market rate housing, to affordable housing). It seems to me that we only fall further behind with that ratio. At best, it’s taking us longer to reach our affordability goals. So I’d increase the inclusionary housing percentage, with the important caveat in my next paragraph. I would work with the City’s Housing Division, Boulder Housing Partners, and developers to find a percentage that’s higher, but workable.
- But I would encourage more affordable housing to be built on the site of new housing developments. The original legislative intent of inclusionary housing legislation was: it’s beneficial to have people of different socio-economic levels living around each other. I believe that’s true. Some residents have asked why developers are allowed to pay a cash-in-lieu fee and “off-site” all or nearly all of their affordable housing. Observers point out that as a result, the new housing developments lack (on their premises) the diversity that inclusionary housing laws were supposed to create. In addition, we’ve witnessed how off-siting a new development’s inclusionary housing percentage to other neighborhoods can cause concerns in those neighborhoods, regarding increased traffic and other impacts. Currently, developers now pay a cash-in-lieu payment that’s actually less than it costs to build the affordable housing. So increasing cash in lieu payments to be at least the actual costs of building affordable housing, would encourage more affordable housing to be built onsite.
Pay attention to middle income housing. On Council, I will support ongoing efforts for affordable housing for people and support creative measures for those who earn between 30%-80% AMI, and those who earn between 80%-120% AMI.
Demand-side management. In addition to looking at the supply side of the equation, I would also look at demand. Boulder has a 1.8% unemployment rate among adult, workforce age residents. That’s among the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. Plus, we also have an additional 60,000+ daily in-commuting workers. I hope that as a community, we can feel we’re doing well on the jobs front. So I would support re-zoning some industrial and commercial areas to affordable housing, and mixed use.
Other re-development opportunities. I would look at places such as the former Boulder Community Hospital site at Alpine and Broadway, and the former Pollard Motors site at 30th and Pearl, to develop affordable housing. Both sites are centrally located, near services and transportation, and therefore don’t represent much additional driving.
Others good ideas to address affordability could, and should, be gleaned from active outreach to the public.