Boulder: Does Boulder Need a Middle-Income Housing Strategy?

The City Council continued its discussion of middle-class housing affordability last week. The Council was divided on how new policies could make middle-class home ownership more affordable. Some said the development and zoning regulations should be tweaked while others argued for new regulations designed to increase density and reduce lot size.

Staff noted that market-rate rentals are largely middle income affordable, so the City should focus on tools that encourage more affordable for-sale housing. However, this trend must be monitored. If rental affordability becomes an issue, as it has in other high housing cost communities, it will require revisions to any strategies the City pursues now.

In a recent study, consultants found that only 17 percent of detached homes for sale in 2015 were affordable to middle-income households. The median detached home sales price in 2015 was $750,000 while the median sales price for attached homes was $305,500. The total costs, driven by land costs, of building detached products, even very small units, make it unlikely that detached products could fill the middle-income housing need without very high levels of per-unit subsidy. The study also found that attached homes retain affordability better than detached homes.

Staff and consultants are also exploring ideas related to impact fees. They want to calculate what types of subsidies would encourage the development of middle incoming housing. However, this could become controversial.  Advocates will protest if the City’s current low and moderate income housing program is affected by the subsidization of middle-income housing.

The Council decided to create a task force consisting of City Council members, Planning Board members, City staff, and stakeholders. This group is charged with drafting options for further Council consideration in a month or so.

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