Boulder Housing Accomplishments in 2022-2023

In this article, I will describe what active BHN readers have accomplished, and then what the Boulder City Council has accomplished (a lot!) related to housing, based on priorities they adopted at the beginning of the two-year Council cycle in 2022. The “a lot” that was accomplished by City Council was due in part to the efforts of BHN activists and other housing advocates in the community who showed up for more housing of all kinds, especially workforce and affordable housing.

BHN advocates have helped the City of Boulder move the needle on housing during this past year: 

  • First, in project specific ways, you have testified and written letters in support of housing projects undergoing review by the Planning Board and City Council. 
  • Second, you have provided campaign support and votes for City Council candidates who support housing. Your voices and votes have caused a sea change in Council leadership over the last two election cycles. We have a City Council that is younger, more diverse in its thinking, and committed to creating housing opportunities for people of modest means in the face of single-family housing price escalation that has turned SF neighborhoods into islands of exclusion.
  • Third, by your support of housing advocates for City Council, we now have a Planning Board that also is committed to expanding housing opportunities for ordinary people. This has a downside for hardworking BHN editors, as we have lost two of our editors to the Planning Board: Kurt Nordback and Claudia Hanson Thiem. Our loss, however, is the city’s gain, because these are two fabulous citizen planners, well versed in placemaking and housing.

Eight of thirteen City Council priorities for 2022-2023 involved expanding housing opportunities. City Council and staff advanced each of these priorities with significant action. City Council, supported by excellent staff work, sought to level the playing field for smaller units; reduce minimum required lot sizes for homes; allow middle-income housing and more types of housing in more places; reduce incentives to build larger homes; and reduce parking requirements.

Here are the specific measures that accomplished these goals:

  1. ADU regulations were relaxed. ADUs are now permitted in all residential lots larger than 5,000 sq. ft. The maximum size of ADUs has been increased to a new limit of 800-1,200 sq. ft. Only one parking space for the property is required if the owner commits to charging rent that is affordable to 75% AMI—currently $1,646/month for a studio, $1,744/month for a 1-bedroom, and $2,117/month for a 2-bedroom ADU.
  2. Density increased in some single-family districts. Duplexes and triplexes are allowed by right on large single-family lots. Fewer housing projects have to go through expensive Planning Board reviews.
  3. Density increased along sections of heavily traveled streets—Broadway, Arapahoe, 28th Street, Canyon and Spruce. These changes doubled the capacity of multi-family sites like the Diagonal Plaza, now under construction.This was accomplished by eliminating the 1,200 sq. ft. open-space-per-unit requirement with a simple floor-area requirement.
  4. Parking requirements were reduced for 1-bedroom units. Furthermore, some parking reductions can be approved by staff rather than having to be approved by Planning Board.
  5. Incentives created for smaller townhouse units. Townhouses built with zero setback no longer have to go through site review.
  6. Occupancy limits increased–permitting up to five unrelated people to live in a home. Previously, occupancy had been limited to three unrelated people in most zones. And as of July 1, 2024, HB24-1007 prohibits cities in Colorado from enforcing any occupancy limits that are not based on health and safety requirements.
  7. Inclusionary Housing requirements no longer incent building large market-rate units. Developers will pay into the affordable housing fund a fee in an amount based on total square footage of the building rather than based on the number of units built. This is a huge change, removing the penalty for building more smaller units rather than a few large units. Think of a developer building a 20,000 sq. ft. apartment building, which could include 20 units, each with 1,000 square feet, or 10 units, each with 2,000 square feet. Before this change, developers paid twice as much into the affordable housing fund to build 20 smaller units than to build 10 larger units, because the affordable housing fee was based on the number of units created. Now developers will pay the same affordable-housing fee for the same square footage, regardless of whether they build 10 or 20 units, which is a great incentive to build more housing.
  8. The Middle-Income Housing Assistance Program was launched. Through this program, the city will help middle-income home buyers purchase a market-rate home by providing down payment assistance. In exchange, the homeowner makes that home permanently affordable through a deed restriction.
  9. In addition, City Council directed staff to enter into Phase 2 of zoning changes that will further expand affordable and workforce housing within our current urban growth boundary. That project began in February 2024, and will be the focus of a future BHN newsletter.

These are important changes to regulations that will expand housing opportunities in Boulder. A BHN newsletter on Wednesday of this week will feature projects that have been approved with the support of BHN readers and others who stepped forward to advocate for them.

Finally, the great changes in housing are in front of us. The every-ten-years major update to the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan starts this year. The Planning Reserve will no doubt receive considerable discussion, as the reserve’s 500 acres could provide homes for many wonderful people in Boulder who right now do not have access to long-term housing.
The ​​airport neighborhood campaign sponsors have put the Boulder Municipal Airport in play as a potential site for housing. BHN’s previous newsletter reported on the ballot petitions. If you are a City of Boulder registered voter and want to sign the petitions, you can view and sign the petitions online.

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