What are the biggest obstacles to creating the type of housing that you have just discussed, and what role can City Council play in removing them?
Taishya Adams: The biggest obstacles to creating affordable housing for low and middle-income residents of Boulder is the continued lack of meaningful representation on city council, the city’s boards, and commission – especially in planning – by low and middle-income residents. Having renters and middle-income residents represented on the council allows for critical lived experience and stronger data-driven decision-making. The City of Boulder must continue to review, revise, and eliminate unnecessary permitting obstacles.
Silas Atkins: The biggest obstacles are land zoning and permitting/approval timelines. We must allow denser housing along transit corridors and especially where there are existing services so as not to strain our infrastructure. Second to this is our willingness to make these changes. We must take bold action to see more housing for everyone.
Terri Brncic: Exorbitant land costs are the biggest obstacle to creating affordable middle-income housing in Boulder. Private developers are incentivized to build either small occupancy rental units or high-end for-sale townhomes, as these represent the best returns on investment. As such, the most feasible way for Boulder to increase its stock of middle housing is through large-scale housing development on city-owned land – similar to the Holiday neighborhood development.
The next council will be asked to weigh in on two important land use decisions concerning the Area III Planning Reserve and the Airport. The Area III Planning Reserve represents some of the last buildable public-owned land in Boulder and could be used for an ambitious affordable housing development. At the same time, discussions are underway to evaluate whether the Airport property could be repurposed to benefit a broader segment of the Boulder population through mixed-use development. I believe both options are worthy of consideration and would be open to discussing if I am elected to council.
Aaron Brockett: Boulder’s onerous development review process and lengthy review times make it very hard to do new housing developments in town, or even to do smaller projects like creating an ADU. At the mid-term retreat, I asked planning staff to identify roadblocks and unnecessary complexities in the code, and bring changes to them back to us as they find them for revision – I got unanimous support from council for this. So far they’ve brought us two packages of changes that we have approved, and I hear from the department that more will be coming soon. We should also streamline and expedite approval processes for deed-restricted affordable housing for low, moderate, and middle income households, and look at reducing fees for them as well.
Waylon Lewis: This may be an unusual answer, but I find that both “sides” claim to support affordability. So I view the biggest obstacle as the toxic tenor of debate, the lack of listening, the lack of working together and including fair criticisms from others while focusing on solutions, not simply beating the other side.
But while we make some progress here and there, some folks push back against a Boulder they don’t recognize, and some locals push for more parking when we should be investing in humans, not cars (that sounds nice, but we can actually do it, as many other towns and cities have. We used to be an eco, innovative leader, the happiest city in the US—we can be again).
We can build human-centered development, protect what affordability we have, and look for innovative, fun, communityful ways to make Boulder welcoming to our children and the next generation, all while doing so in a way that feels “Boulder” and is eco, delightful, and connecting. Enough with the luxury condos. We can do better. Let’s.
Tina Marquis: One obstacle that can be addressed is the cost of land. There are a few opportunities to use city-owned land for deed-restricted housing, in particular the planning reserve. I will support evaluating opportunities in the reserve during the comp plan review process. The cost of construction is also a barrier. I will support ongoing efforts to accelerate and simplify permitting, but recognize that some requirements, including those that relate to flood and fire mitigation and climate resilience, should not be altered. I also am supportive of looking at how modular homes, including those at the new factory, can be incorporated into our housing stock and create lower price points for buyers.
Aaron Neyer: Money, but more than just money is greed. Many developers are more concerned with making as much profit as possible than they are with ensuring people are housed. We need to be building relationships with developers who are truly interested in helping and who have the know-how to do it in a way that is economically viable and sustainable. Through these relationships we can foster more effective collaboration that gets to the root of the problem and from that builds the housing that we need.
Jenny Robins: In my opinion, our biggest obstacles to creating affordable housing is the market in Boulder, limited available land, limited infrastructure and resources, and zoning regulations. To work around these problems, here are some options where City Council can play a role. For the market issues, City Council can impose some limited regulations such as requiring rental licenses have rental price restrictions. For limited available land, we can look to infill in the city proper to create the opportunity for multi-dwelling units. For infrastructure and resources, we need to require developments to build to energy efficient codes and use renewables. For zoning, we need to reform our codes to build for people not cars and allow for less open space per square foot.
Ryan Schuchard: First, codes and standards make most of our best opportunities illegal, and inertia at the level of elected leaders has kept things mostly the same. What is needed is city council members stepping up to make the values-based decision to undertake earnest reforms. Fortunately, this process has begun with the current city council as well as at the statewide level. Our next Council needs to support and accelerate this kind of action.
Second, organizational culture and systems within the city have created a municipal government that has a heavy bureaucracy which constrains the space for new buildings and new kinds of building. Our current city council has initiated a process of asking city staff internally to evaluate opportunities to relax constraints and streamline. Our next council should continue this process.
Third, a meaningful share of community members are concerned that more housing will conflict with livability. This concern is understandable, yet, it is clear from research and practice that creating a more walkable, resource-efficient urban form will actually improve quality of life—and indeed is actually necessary to reduce many of people’s biggest complaints such as around traffic. What Council needs to do: While undertaking housing reforms,concurrently pursue measures to wind down the presence and impacts of excessive cars (for example, by reducing parking mandates and subsidies) while expanding the use of a non-police chronic nuisances program to address targeted problems systemically. As Council does that, show successes to the public and then continue to increase investments in a stepwise fashion.
Nicole Speer: We still have substantial regulatory hurdles to developing denser housing types in Boulder. Eliminating these hurdles will require continued will and focus from Council. The biggest obstacle to achieving this outcome is our decision-making process and culture. Until recently, our engagement processes were biased toward those with the time, knowledge, and resources to provide feedback on city decisions. This left out crucial voices in policy-making, including those most in need of affordable housing (workers, young families, immigrants, etc.).
We have recently begun developing and implementing processes and building relationships that provide more inclusive feedback on Council decisions. This year, for example, we engaged low-income communities in our annual budgeting process. Because inclusive engagement is still new for Council, we sometimes still give the same or more weight to last-minute emails from constituents responding to misinformation they read in a newsletter than we give to our months-long, inclusive engagement efforts.
To overcome these obstacles, Councimembers must commit to championing inclusive engagement and using feedback from a broad range of constituents to guide city decision-making. As a woman scientist and leader who consistently stands up for marginalized communities, I know it is challenging to put oneself on the front lines of any controversial issue to advocate for the perspectives of people with less privilege. Nevertheless, we must persist.
Culture change isn’t easy, but by using our influence in the community to champion facts, inclusive engagement, and equitable decision-making, City Council can use its influence to create more affordable housing.
Paul Tweedlie: The City can help home builders by reviewing building codes and regulations and getting rid of those which no longer make sense.
Tara Winer: The cost of land, inflation, labor shortages, and the cost of building materials are just some of the many market forces the city council does not control.
We can lighten the load to builders/architects/developers by eliminating archaic laws/rules from our land use code. We can consider ways to bring down the cost of site review. We can also sit down with architects , builders, and developers to get their perspective on what the obstacles are to affordability and how THEY suggest we remove them.
Our staff recently did a great job in removing some of these obstacles, and we just approved many of their suggestions as well as some of our own suggestions. We moved some ideas to Phase II so they get the proper amount of community engagement and study. We approved allowing duplexes and triplexes in single family zones as long as the density rules remained the same, ie.e 7,000 sq. ft. in RL-1, 7,500 sq. ft. in RE, and 30,000 sq. ft.in RR. We revised density calculation requirements. We replaced lot area per dwelling unit and open space per dwelling calculations with a floor area ratio (FAR) limits for some zones. This was a much needed and much applauded change.
Bob Yates: During my eight years on council, I have come to realize that the biggest obstacle to projects and programs that drive housing affordability is community fear of change. We saw it with co-op and ADU liberalization. We saw it with specific projects like 3303 Broadway, CU South, Attention Homes, and Marpa House. We will undoubtedly see it with the upcoming Baseline and Alpine-Balsam projects, as well as other projects yet to be announced or conceived.
But, I have also learned that, communicating with residents openly and candidly can often assuage their fear of the unknown. People who are listened to, who are part of the planning, can often get on board. And, even if they don’t fully support the proposed change or project, their resistance can be tempered with understanding of the goals and objectives. As council members, it is our duty to tell our constituents in advance what we plan to do, to truly listen to their concerns, to be willing to accept some of their adjustments, and to explain our decisions after we make them. I have tried to do this through 84 issues of my monthly newsletter, the Boulder Bulletin. Other council members can use communication tools that best suit them.
Folks won’t always agree with us, but they will understand why we did what we did. And they will feel listened to.