Where and by what means during your three year term should Boulder create more middle-income housing? By middle-income housing, we mean housing that is attainable to households earning $80,000 to $150,000 a year.
Taishya Adams: The City of Boulder does not currently have/use a climate risk assessment which is critical to ensure that any housing is responsive to changing climate and available/projected natural resources (e.g. water). Results of this type of assessment will help determine location for both in-fill housing as well as housing in Area III and elsewhere.
Silas Atkins: The quickest way to add middle-income housing is to build more housing stock to bring down the market rate for rentals and home purchases. This can best be accomplished by simplifying the permitting process for new and retrofit construction. This must be done with a focus on sustainable and climate resilient construction.
Terri Brncic: The most immediate opportunity for creating more middle-income housing is through incentive zoning changes. The City Council recently approved some changes to zoning that would incentivize the creation of more middle housing in multi-unit developments by removing some planning review steps and by allowing up-zoning in certain single family neighborhoods. A second phase of these zoning changes will likely come up in the next council. I am generally in support of these new zoning regulations provided they are coupled with affordability commitments. For example, I would be in support of selective up-zoning in single family neighborhoods provided there is a deed-restricted component to these new developments so that we aren’t just creating more $1M+ townhomes.
The other promising opportunity in this area is the Middle Income Down Payment Assistance Program, which is currently being piloted. In the coming years, we will have sufficient data to assess whether this program is achieving its goals and determine whether full-funding of the program is warranted. On the surface, I think this is a compelling tool to enable more home-ownership for middle income families.
Aaron Brockett: One huge opportunity is the Area III Planning Reserve. We should move forward with making that area eligible for annexation. Much of the land in that area is city owned already, which would allow for the creation of substantial amounts of middle-income attainable housing. We should also finish out the rezoning process for the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan as well as the Boulder Junction Phase 2 area (we just approved an update to the plan this week, but more work lies ahead in changing the land use designation and then rezoning as necessary). While new market-rate construction is expensive, many of the new rentals are attainable to people in that income range. Another possibility is work with the new Middle Income Housing Authority at the state level to build multiple middle-income developments. I spoke with their organizers some months ago and it’s a promising new revenue stream that also includes technical assistance.
Waylon Lewis: We’ve actually had some success building affordable housing in Boulder—we’re at 8.4%, our goal is 15%, and other cities on the Front Range are at less than 1%. But we continue to shed, and fail to build, missing middle income housing as we all know. Every year we lose wonderful, weird, vital community members who help make Boulder what we love so dearly.
We can reverse that, and ease the traffic coming in and leaving each day, by building housing appropriate for middle income citizens. If we don’t, our schools will empty. I will frankly rely on many of you for guidance, always listening, but then move into team-building and execution. Whether at the airport (allowing for emergency services, still), infill, continued support for ADUs or affordability in occupancy, or the planning reserve, we can and must find ways to help developers want to build what we desperately need. Instead, too often, we’re doing the opposite—discouraging projects such as the one at Jay and 36.
Equally vital—protecting what we have, discouraging out-of-state investors from buying up properties, and taxing second homes and short term rentals more so as to protect the fabric of our community.
Tina Marquis: I am looking to increase ‘missing middle’ housing types and will be interested in continuing infill in the city and exploring light zoning changes that allow compatible duplexes and triplexes in residential areas close to transit and that can be made affordable. I am particularly interested in creating incentives for affordable ownership opportunities (not just new rentals) to ensure Boulder can offer a continuum of housing options at every income level while enabling lower and middle income residents to be homeowners. Boulder is already over 50% rental and while that fills an important need in the community, I hope to balance that with ownership opportunities, in particular for people of color who have historically been excluded from wealth generation through homeownership. In addition to the existing down payment assistance program, I am interested in a rent-to-own program like that proposed by Mayor Johnston in Denver if successful, and opportunities for deed-restricted housing in the planning reserve as part of the comp plan review.
Aaron Neyer: I would advocate for taking a fresh look at the middle-income housing plan that the council just shot down a few weeks ago. I think that it’s possible to include some of the good parts of what they were working on without all the sacrifices the council wasn’t willing to accept. We need to prioritize working with developers to ensure developers are able to build and that we are building an effective diversity of housing options that works for low, middle and high income Boulderites. Further we need to ensure that we are ensuring that low and middle income housing is reaching who it needs to ensure a healthy and diverse city; this means making sure that we are able to house people who live in Boulder such as police and health and service workers, and it also means ensuring we are able to house people who are historically under-represented in Boulder such as many people of color.
Jenny Robins: We need to continue to develop programs that assist middle-income households such as our down payment assistance program. These programs could include additional types of low-interest loans or additional rental subsidies to make housing more attainable. I would like to revisit the proposal put forth by our Housing Department at the 9/7 Council Meeting that allowed for an adjustment to the Inclusionary Housing Policy that would have modified the city’s methodology to a “per square foot” cash in lieu structure and potentially boost to middle income opportunities. In addition, I will work with staff to continue to lobby for the maximum state and federal tax dollars that can be used to provide for more affordable middle-income housing for individuals and incentivize developers.
Ryan Schuchard: In order to create a significantly higher level of more affordable housing on the ground, we need an engine for actually building housing–and specifically, housing options in the “middle housing” category. This means duplexes and triplexes, townhomes, small apartment buildings, cottage courts, co-ops, small houses on small lots, and multiple small houses on large lots. This category of housing tends to be more affordable because the units tend to be smaller.
We need to do this everywhere, targeting infill near the downtown core, in eastern Boulder, in large developable land including Area III and the potentially airport, and elsewhere. A key strategy for doing this is to allow this category of development by-right.
City council needs to advance this category of housing by pursuing reforms such as outlined in my response to question 1. This includes housing specifically as well as strategies integrated with transportation that allow people to be able to live well with less reliance on a car.
Nicole Speer: Unfortunately, the time to build more middle income housing was 20-30 years ago. Decades of growth restrictions limited the development of housing that should have been middle income housing for 2023. The changes we are making now will take more than three years to have significant impacts.
We should continue to reduce barriers to building more, smaller homes, especially as our demographics shift in the coming decades and result in fewer households with children (due to an aging population and reduced birth rates). We should allow duplexes and triplexes to be built by-right in more single-family areas, continue to reduce barriers to building denser and smaller homes, and reduce parking requirements.
The way we will keep and grow the number of middle-income households in Boulder in the next three years will be through subsidies and wages. We give subsidies to low-income households but not middle-income households, in part due to federal and state regulations, but I would like to see us find ways to provide more housing assistance to middle income families as well as assistance for other costs such as childcare that have skyrocketed in recent years.
We also need to raise wages for workers. Companies take advantage of Boulder’s beauty and natural environment to attract workers, but they are failing to pay their workers a living wage. This failure results in the city and local nonprofits subsidizing food, housing, and other costs for workers. When workers are paid a living wage, housing will be more attainable.
Paul Tweedlie: I propose significant property tax rebates for seniors and families with children.
Tara Winer: Some of our land use policies as well rising material costs and inflation have made it harder and more expensive to middle and attainable housing in the city. Our council has already made some progress in regards to our Inclusionary Housing laws. My hope is that we continue on that trajectory in 2024.
As previously mentioned, Area III planning reserve should be prioritized for annexation and development. As you know, we own much of the land so we have a better chance of building attainable housing for these households.
The airport is a possibility for a second large plot of city-owned land where we can build attainable housing, but this is a TBD for the next Council to decide. There will be plenty of pushback from the airport community and the FAA so it will not be as obvious a path forward. But we should have staff study this and see if there is a way forward.
I support the idea of community land trusts. It is a way to offer homeownership opportunities to lower/middle income families. It may be a way to ameliorate our labor shortages, as having nowhere for our city employees to live has taken a toll on our ability to hire staff.
Lastly, my daughter and son-in-law were able to afford a condo in Boulder a few years ago. However, Colorado’s condo defect law. has had the unintended consequences of disincentivizing developers from building more condos. I would like to see the state legislature fix this.
Bob Yates: I helped create the Middle Income Down Payment Assistance Program, which was launched this year. As I wrote in a recent issue of my monthly newsletter, the idea for the program arose during a bus ride that I took with Sam Weaver in June 2016. Working with city staff, mortgage lenders, and realtors, Sam and I adjusted and tweaked the program until it was ready to be approved by council and the voters in 2019. Covid delayed the planned launch of the program in 2020, but the current council had the courage to launch the program this summer, seven years after it was conceived.
The program offers interest-free loans to families earning up to 120% of the Area Median Income, allowing them to borrow up to 30% of the price of their new home, to be applied as a down payment. The loan is interest-free and does not require debt service or repayment for 15 years. For many families who otherwise income-qualify for a mortgage but who don’t have enough saved for a down payment (often a problem for young or first-time buyers), the city’s down payment assistance accelerates their time to home ownership and equity-building. Perhaps most importantly, homes enrolled in the program are appreciation-capped (currently at a little more than 3% per year), allowing the creation over time of a cohort of below-market housing that subsequent families can take advantage of.
We will adjust the program over time, based on participant experience and feedback.