Should Longmont Create More Affordable Housing?

At a study session on August 19th the City Council considered the scarcity of rental housing and the issue of affordability in general. The big question, which remains unanswered, is how to pay for it? Ironically, during the same meeting, staff noted that the City still has a $1.7 million dollar budget gap, even though the City has worked to reduce its initial $5 million gap for the past several years.

Councilman Brian Bagley suggested, perhaps facetiously, that if affordable housing is a top priority for the City, then the Council should figure out which services the City should discontinue in order to pay for more housing. A majority of the Council agreed that rental housing is the most important issue. Most also agreed that developer incentives should be considered. Some suggested the City should survey residents to access support for a potential sales and/or property tax to fund affordable housing programs.

Mayor Coombs and Council member Polly Christensen argued that inclusionary zoning (IZO) should be reconsidered. They said that perhaps the City’s prior IZO program just needs to be tweaked. Christensen went even further, saying Longmont is one of the only cities left in Boulder County with any developable space. She argued that “it’s a privilege to building in Longmont… and developers should do their share.”

Council member Sarah Levison repeatedly advocated for a building permit fee that could be dedicated to affordable housing. No other Council members expressed support for her idea. (It is also possible such a fee would violate TABOR since the fee could not be linked to a specific service.)

Kathy Fedler, Longmont’s CDBG and Affordable Housing Programs Coordinator, argued that a real estate transfer tax (RETT) is a successful revenue stream in 40 states (the actual number of states with a RETT is 36, according to NAR). A RETT would require an amendment to Colorado’s constitution, something Fedler said affordable housing advocates are currently discussing. Council member Christensen liked this idea, saying it would be “a very simple thing the City could explore.”

Fedler had no suggested affordable housing target that the City should consider as a goal. The Council asked for a complete list of possible funding options as well as research into the affordable housing “best practices” in effect in Colorado and across the nation. Council did not set a deadline by which staff should return with this information. The idea of convening another task force to make recommendations to Council was discussed in passing without any specific staff direction.

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