Adam Swetlik : Affordable change for Boulder’s ADU future

POSTED: 12/30/2017 BY THE DAILY CAMERA

Housing affordability has been and will remain the top priority for the citizens of Boulder. Creative solutions to address this problem without fundamentally changing the size and livability of Boulder do exist, and it’s time to act upon them.

One of the biggest topics of this past election was how Boulder’s Accessory Dwelling Units and Owner’s Accessory Unit requirements should be changed to help our current housing affordability challenges. There is a path forward to using ADUs and OAUs as permanently affordable means to addressing this challenge. The time has come to start down that path in a thoughtful, community-minded way.

The first step that should be taken is an ADU/OAU test program within a Boulder neighborhood as part of a neighborhood planning pilot program. Changes such as these cultivate the neighborhood voice and elicit feedback to find the right balance of adding ADUs/OAUs without creating a negative impact on livability. A pilot program is the best means of getting a baseline for the program, which can be fine-tuned to the needs of each unique neighborhood in Boulder. By testing and gathering data with a pilot program, a broader-scale program can be developed for other neighborhoods.

While ADUs can be utilized as a great solution to using existing spaces to help affordability, it’s important that the changes made going forward ensure permanent affordability. Houses with these units should not just be purchased by an investor and rented at market rate, further adding to the affordability problem. Requiring from the outset that all ADUs remain permanently affordable will allow owners to bring in additional income to help their own living situation while increasing affordability throughout Boulder. Rent caps can be applied in a fashion not constrained by Colorado rent control prohibition.

While permanent affordability is important to maintain or acquire over the long run, ADUs/OAUs need not achieve day-one affordability. We can’t expect property owners to build or renovate spaces and then rent them below market rate. However, these units could initially rent at market rates, but have future rent increases capped at some rate between general inflation and the local, inflated real estate market. This acquires affordability over the long term, while enabling some market increases for owners.

There have been arguments made that further incentives beyond the expanded availability of ADUs/OAUs may be needed to spur their development. Initially, Boulder’s pilot program should not include any additional incentives so that we can determine if, in fact, there are impediments to their development. If a pilot program indicates further incentives are needed to reach our housing goals, they can be added to the wider implementation of the program.

As the needs of our community change, so must Boulder. Expanding availability of ADUs and OAUs as part of a neighborhood planning process and pilot project offers an integrated model to tackle our affordability challenges without significantly changing the physical character of our community. By implementing such a pilot program in 2018, the City Council can make good on this past election’s promises of improving housing affordability.

As an 11-year resident of Boulder and a board member of PLAN-Boulder County, housing affordability is a key issue that matters to me and should be acted upon by our city government.

Adam Swetlik lives in Boulder

2018-01-16T18:20:11+00:00