Submitted by Zane Selvans
In order get all of the benefits of evolving Boulder into a human scale urban environment, we must allow more people to live within the city. The urban growth boundary — which Better Boulder strongly supports — limits the types of additional housing we can provide. We cannot significantly increase the supply of detached single family homes. However, we can potentially provide more urban housing options for both owners and renters, including row houses, mid-rise apartments and condominiums. We can also allow fine-grained infill within relatively low density parts of the city by liberalizing our rules around accessory units (OAU/ADUs, see these three posts) and allowing more duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes that are consistent with the character of existing neighborhoods.
The city’s recent housing survey suggests that there is significant demand for these types of housing. Amongst respondents who currently commute into Boulder, half said that they would be willing to live in a townhome or rowhouse in order to live within the city, and a third were willing to live in a duplex/triplex/fourplex. While attached dwellings aren’t desired by all of the city’s current residents, there are plenty of people — especially younger, mobile, creatives and innovators — who prefer urban forms of housing when it is embedded within vibrant, walkable neighborhoods. Instead of seeking an isolated dream home, many would now rather have a vibrant neighborhood, where much of life plays out in social public spaces, rather than cloistered in their own private home. Rather than trying to appeal to the in-commuters that moved out of Boulder specifically so that they could buy single family homes, Better Boulder believes we should focus on providing more of the types of housing that can be fit into the city’s existing footprint, attracting new citizens who are interested in a slightly more urban existence.
Where should this new housing go? We believe that by adding multi-family housing and mixed-use development along major transit corridors, the character of our existing single family neighborhoods can be preserved and their walkability improved, giving them easier access to entertainment, shopping, and employment opportunities nearby. This will make the most efficient use of our existing investments in mass transit, and can create a buffer zone between single family neighborhoods and large high speed, high traffic thoroughfares.
It has become common for young couples to move out of Boulder when they start a family. Single family housing within town is often prohibitively expensive, and many people do not feel that our existing multi-family housing stock is particularly family friendly. However, Better Boulder believes that embedded within the right kind of neighborhood and the right kinds of streets, higher density housing can be made extremely family friendly. Many co-housing communities have a common green that is separated from motor vehicles by buildings, with good line of sight from many of the housing units, providing a safe and enclosed social space for children. Low traffic residential streets can be extremely calmed, creating “Play Streets” or “Slow Zones” safe enough for children to inhabit, as is common in many European cities. Putting lots of children in close proximity to each other allows spontaneous neighborhood socialization that is more difficult in suburban settings. BHP’s Red Oak Park is one small local example. Higher density family-oriented housing also makes it much easier for children to live within easy walking distance of neighborhood daycare and schools.
Because Boulder is a desirable location with a limited supply of housing, our housing tends to be expensive. It is desirable to have affordable housing within the city so that our service workers, non-profit and public sector employees, elders living on fixed incomes, and other community members of modest means can also make this place their home, participate in governance, and avoid an expensive, time consuming, energy intensive, congestion inducing regional commute. There are several ways to address affordable housing generally. The city’s existing inclusionary housing law creates affordability through subsidies, but housing can also be made more affordable by allowing people to buy a smaller amount of it — encouraging the creation of smaller dwelling units and more shared housing options (like ADUs and housing cooperatives). Better Boulder believes that it is important to look not just at housing affordability, but more broadly at location efficiency — including both housing and transportation costs, as well as transportation equity. Today much of Boulder’s permanently affordable housing is located at the city’s margin, and is underserved by our investments in non-driving modes. We would like to see the city do a better job of creating housing for the entire economic spectrum within easily walkable, bike friendly, transit dense areas.