Here are Nicole Speer’s answers to Boulder Housing Network’s four questions:
1. Where does housing rank amongst your priorities for the three-year term you areseeking? What housing policies or programs will you advocate to include in Council’s 2024-2025
Housing will continue to be a priority for me in the next Council term. I enthusiastically
supported our 2022-2023 Council workplan priorities related to housing. We have madesignificant progress with this Council: eliminating the density limits for accessory
dwelling units, incentivizing developers to build smaller units (e.g., eliminating the need
for site review on smaller projects, changing open space requirements to allow for more
density, and changing inclusionary housing fees to be based on square footage rather
than number of units), raising the number of unrelated people who can live together in a
home, and allowing duplexes and triplexes in some areas zoned for single-family
We are moving in the right direction for 2024-2025. I have been advocating for charging
a fee to homeowners who are expanding the size of single-family homes, and using
those funds to build more affordable housing. This month, we asked staff to move
forward on that process. I have supported and will continue to support exploring housing
as a potential future use of the airport site. We asked staff to begin to identify barriers in
city code that are making permitting and review take an extraordinarily long amount of
time (and adding to the cost of projects, which increase the cost of units), and they are
moving forward on this work. I will also continue to support the completion of the
Baseline Urban Services study at the Area III planning reserve so we can move forward
with development in that area.
2. 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.
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.
3. What would you like to tell our subscribers that you will do during your three year term to
create housing that is at least somewhat affordable for middle-income residents?
I will advocate for:
- Adding significant single family home renovations and expansions to the Inclusionary Housing Program to generate more funding for affordable housing
- Continuing to relax single-family zoning to allow more duplexes, triplexes, and multiplexes in single-family areas
- Continuing to reduce parking minimums
- Exploring the use of the city-owned airport land for alternative uses
- Completing the baseline urban services study for the Area III Planning Reserve
- Ensuring major goals of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update include affordability, sustainability, equity, and resilience.
- Increasing the minimum wage
- Subsidies for childcare (along with housing costs, childcare is one of the largest household costs and has increased substantially in the past 6-7 years)
- Charging large corporations (i.e., those making >$15M/year in profits) a fee for not paying their workers a living wage, with proceeds going to housing and basic needs subsidies for workers
3. 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?
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, Council members 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.