The City of Boulder is in the early stages of defining their middle income housing strategy.

Below is the letter from the Better Boulder co-chairs.

March 14, 2016
Re: Better Boulder Input on the Middle Income Housing Strategy Discussion

Members of Council:

First, we would like to express our strong support for a focus on middle-income housing as a complement to efforts focused on permanently affordable housing for lower income residents. In order for Boulder to be a healthy community, we need to have housing that works for a wide cross section of income levels. As you work on this, there are a few principles we hope you will keep in mind.

First, the staff analysis shows that there is one area where current policies are helping to create new housing opportunities that are affordable to the middle class – the creation of new rental housing. While this does not meet the needs of all households, it is an important element of our middle-income housing stock. In many community conversations new rental housing that is not deed restricted and permanently affordable is dismissed as “luxury housing” that only serves the wealthy, but as this report demonstrates the rents are in fact affordable to people making 80-120% of median income.

Second is the huge deficit in housing availability in Boulder across income ranges and housing types. We have built very little new housing for decades, while demand has grown significantly. Any middle income housing strategy should be a component of a broader effort to increase housing opportunities in Boulder. This means that efforts should not trade off lower income housing or affordable middle income rentals for other types of middle income housing, but instead should seek to grow the housing pie. And the scale of the imbalance is large, so we should be willing to think big. Our housing problems are largely self-imposed; there is no reason that we could not modify zoning rules to allow much larger numbers of new homes.

The analysis suggests that there is an important need that is not being met for attached middle class housing like townhomes and duplexes and triplexes. We agree with this analysis, and would support a focused effort to develop more opportunities for this type of attached housing. We would support approaches such as density bonuses for middle income attached housing and gentle infill in appropriate locations in existing neighborhoods. We also believe there is room for a constructive conversation about giving commercial property owners the ability to redevelop more of their space into housing or a mix of housing and commercial space, rather than being limited solely to commercial.

We would not support changes that would reduce the number of new housing units by downzoning from denser housing types to duplexes or similar housing types. We also would encourage more attention to how denser development can be developed in a family friendly manner. Other cities have shown that denser housing can attract families with the right kind of design.

Third, the city should not simply layer in new land use rules, but also look at how current rules get in the way of the outcomes that the community is seeking. We support regulatory changes that would remove incentives that lead developments to include a smaller number of larger units, rather than a larger number of smaller units. We support reductions to minimum parking requirements, so that we can have more space for people, particularly in areas with good transit access; and we support changes to allow accessory units and shared housing both to be a potentially significant source of housing opportunities.

Finally, we would suggest a very clear-eyed analysis of the bang for the buck, the scalability, and the opportunity costs of alternative approaches. The memo discusses the potential of city investment to maintain the affordability of existing market rate housing as it turns over to new owners. There may be a role for this, but we are concerned that it could be a very expensive approach that affects a small number of units and does not help at all with increasing the overall access to housing by growing the number of homes.

Thanks for tackling this important issue,

The Better Boulder Steering Committee
Sue Prant & Ken Hotard, co-chairs