Boulder: City Struggles with Affordable Housing

The Boulder City Council was poised to adopt some general goals related to the City’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy (CHS) but even abstract concepts proved controversial in a classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) backlash from citizens. Short-term actions that had been identified as early wins proved more difficult than had been anticipated.

In particular, a goal to “age in place” became a sticking point when an ordinance was introduced that would permit six to ten citizens over 62 to share a home, depending on the zoning of the home. Although staff didn’t predict shared housing would be wildly popular, there was enough outcry from citizens to table the ordinance. One speaker said the concept would “alter the fabric of the neighborhood” and asked “why seniors should receive special treatment.” This was balanced by many who spoke in support of the concept but that wasn’t enough to get the ordinance on to 2nd reading in the near future.

One aspect of the hearing of particular interest to REALTORS relates to the goal of “maintaining the middle (class).” The Council evidently wants to focus on single-family homes as well as multi-family units. One strategy that was mentioned was “protecting the purchase of single-family homes from investors.” Observers say this may be as simple as working with Boulder Housing Partners (BHP) to buy housing stock and out-compete others in the free market.

In the end, after a long discussion the Council approved the goals, allowing the staff to move forward with the public engagement phase of the CHS. Note: Affordable housing is a goal that everyone supports – in theory. The devil, as always, is in the details. Citizens will always oppose efforts that they think will impact their quality of life or their home values.

Affordability is an issue in any town with high demand and low availability. The elected officials of Boulder have implemented a variety of regulations over the years that have restricted growth and increased the cost of construction. The question is, can the City really make an significant impact on affordability in a city that was recently ranked as the most expensive place to live (for a town of its size) in the country? If denser multi-family development isn’t the best approach, than what is?

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