Here are Ryan Schuchard’s answers to Boulder Housing Network’s four questions:
1. Where does housing rank amongst your priorities for the three-year term you are seeking? What housing policies or programs will you advocate to include in Council’s 2024-2025 work plan?
My overall focus is making Boulder more affordable, more inclusive, and safer. To that end, my #1 strategy, which is tied (and mutually supportive) with climate action, is to modernize Boulder’s combined approach for housing and transportation to create an integrated strategy making our community more walkable, bikeable, and transit-rich, while providing sufficient accessible and attainable housing of the kind people want near where they need to go.
For housing specifically, I will advocate to:
- Reform zoning to make it easier to encourage infill development and build more middle housing options.
- Reduce and eliminate parking mandates which increase the cost of construction and reduce the amount of housing that can be built.
- Get the most out of strategic development of large areas like the airport, Area III planning reserve, and CU South.
- Reduce administrative burdens by simplifying planning and permitting through lowering requirements involved in the entitlements process, ensuring requirements for development are clear, reasonable, and well-enforced, and pursuing opportunities to remove bottlenecks identified by staff.
Concurrently, I aim to advance reforms and improvements towards building a safer and more responsive multi-modal transportation system allowing people to live their fullest lives without a car or “car-lite,” something I have been working towards as a member of the City’s Transportation Advisory Board. I also seek to help establish a more rigorous high-level strategy for climate action that unlocks the city’s mostly-dormant climate action plan.
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.
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.
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?
My overall framework for creating more affordable options for middle-income residents is outlined in the response to question 2. As for specific action, I will advocate that we provide maximum support for continuation as well as next phases of reforms that the current council has begun, such as those adopted in September 21, 2023, while playing a proactive role in advancing statewide housing reform. I will also advocate that we create a greater political focus on climate action which will help the cause of land use reform.
At the more detailed level, some opportunities I am especially excited about exploring are reducing minimum lot sizes, switching long lists of requirements to lists of specific disallowances, setting out corridor plans for more people-centered, transit-oriented spaces on busy roads, and encouraging granny flats and accessory dwelling units.
I am also interested to investigate opportunities to encourage homeowner associations of large single-family homes to facilitate options that allow their members to increase occupancy, as well as to look for strategies both for ownership as well as rentals.
I plan to advocate for these kinds of measures during the workplan development process and beyond as opportunities arise.
4. 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?
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.