City of Boulder Embarks on Comprehensive Housing Strategy

Staff says a preliminary analysis of demographic, economic, and housing market data confirms that both the City and Boulder County are losing middle-income households. What follows is a summary of the memo’s conclusions, which were presented at a May 14 study session:

Rents are increasing, with vacancies near zero in 2012. The price for single-family detached homes is increasing; as of 2011, the average price for a home in Boulder was more than $500,000.

Staff concluded that there are no solutions to Boulder’s affordability challenges. Demand to live in Boulder will always outstrip the housing supply. However, there are opportunities to respond more effectively. The City is implementing a multi-phase comprehensive housing strategy to increase the supply of homes for residents whose income falls in the middle-income range (between $50,000 and $150,000).

Staff wrote that, “It is too late to preempt or significantly address Boulder’s loss of affordable detached single-family homes. There is not enough land to add the necessary supply, nor are there the financial resources to provide the necessary subsidy to a large enough number of middle-income households.”

Given constraints on available land, increasing the supply of housing will require continued consideration of strategies to increase supply through infill and redevelopment. Staff argues that this is an approach the City has used in the past and can continue to use effectively.

While the combination of student-oriented housing and city- and nonprofit-supported permanently affordable units have helped create and preserve housing opportunities for lower-income households, the rest of the housing market has increased in cost and is not delivering housing products that are attractive and affordable to middle-income households, particularly families. As a result, many middle-income families are locating elsewhere (by choice or necessity), even though they may work or go to school in Boulder. This has negative social, economic and environmental consequences. The strategy development process will focus on creating new policy and program tools intended to influence this trend.

The culmination of Phase 1 of the comprehensive strategy is a Council study session tentatively scheduled for October 2013. A more in-depth housing needs analysis will be conducted over the summer to inform next steps and focus areas. It will identify the specific gaps between community needs and the housing stock for all income levels both locally and regionally.

Housing Choice analysis will help identify the factors other than price that shape the decisions made by households as to where they live. This is a key area of understanding if the city is to succeed in creating housing that is attractive to middle-income households and in- commuters, since housing in Boulder does not compete on a square-foot cost basis with similar housing in nearby communities. What amenities or other factors drive housing choices for Boulder’s commuters? How do they value the trade-off between living in a larger home elsewhere and traveling a longer distance, versus living within the city but in a smaller or attached home?

An Opportunities and Best Practices Inventory will focus on an inventory of “best practices” in terms of housing policies, programs, partnerships and outcomes, and how those best practices might be applied. While nearly everyone in Boulder is affected by housing issues, there are key individuals or groups involved with the production of housing in the community that will be particularly important to engage. These include Boulder Housing Partners, private developers, non-profit housing providers, Boulder County Housing and Human Services, local universities, and lenders. Other stakeholders include key individuals and groups with an interest in housing policy and impacted by housing programs, such as tenant and landlord organizations, employers and business community. Note: One important group that was left off this list is the Boulder Area REALTOR® Association.

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