Affordable Housing

Since the economic downturn, the average worker in Boulder cannot afford to live here. Boulder has an Average Median Income of ~$75,000, and with the average home price over $1 million and average rent of over $1,000 there is simply a shortage in affordable housing for families that make a decent living. We have 65,000 people commute every day into Boulder, and while we can’t house everyone, we should be trying to provide more inventory for the hard working families that engage in our community. Boulder has done a good job of building capacity of affordable units focused on those making at or below Boulder’s AMI but has fallen short of some of our goals. Boulder set goals to increase the cultural and economic diversity of our population with the affordable housing program. The intent of the program was to increase the inventory of housing to be accessible for people in lower to middle income brackets. Boulder’s housing crisis has disproportionately affected young working families. Boulder has historically depended on this demographic to facilitate much of the vibrancy that we’ve come to expect of our city. Do we want to live in a city with a declining population of youthful vibrant residents? We are witnessing the decline of the young Boulder family. Based on the 2010 census and recent enrollment data from the Boulder Valley School District, that’s where we are heading.  Since 2012 the population of Boulder residents under 18 has declined by roughly 4%. Some BVSD schools located on the west side of the district (west of Foothills) are struggling with enrollment, while the east side of the district (east of Foothills) has seen steady growth. This growth is to be expected given the housing and population growth in Louisville, Lafayette and the surrounding areas. The enrollment in schools on the west side of town are showing indicators of the area being choked off from young families not being able to afford living in the area.


Building a Future for the Middle Class:

While we have spent a lot of time focusing on the lower income affordable housing, we are neglecting the opportunity to build an economic ladder of success in this town. This ladder would be a spectrum of affordability, providing opportunities for entry at a variety of levels and locations. We have not done nearly enough for Boulder’s middle class. These families do not qualify for the affordable housing program, but also cannot afford rent or a million dollar home. Many of those that fall into these income brackets are young working families.Boulder has often focussed on using density to using true affordability, which has in turn limited the diversity of housing options that are available throughout the city. While density provides the ability to house the most people per square foot, it neglects those working families that need 3-4 bedrooms and some yard space. I want Boulder to focus on building more inventory for the hard working middle class families in our community. Without adding single family home inventory, we are doing very little to build Boulder’s middle class. There needs to be balance between the diversity of housing options in our affordable housing programs for low and middle income populations.


Inclusionary Housing:


Inclusionary housing was the spear point of achieving our community goals. Inclusionary housing requires developers to parse out 20% of units in a building to meet Boulder’s affordable housing requirements.  Alongside this requirement was an option for the developer to pay a cash fee in-lieu of building these affordable units.  What we’ve ended up with is a lot of new housing that does not meet those original community goals. The catch-22 is that the cash-in-lieu fee is the primary revenue source for the city’s affordable housing program. The cash-in-lieu program had good intentions but poor results. This program created an economic incentive to developers to segregate the housing rather than build properties with balanced economic diversity. It should have been a penalty and ended up as an incentive. It is cheaper for the developers to pay the fee, and opt out of the inclusionary housing requirement, then to build the 20% affordable housing. We now have more segregated housing and communities than was originally intended, and continue to develop properties without reevaluating our goals and the process to achieve them. I would increase the cash-in-lieu fee to drive more developers to build the 20% inclusionary housing we originally set out to achieve. We need to do more to incentivize developers to meet the needs of Boulder’s goals. If a developer is specifically building housing to meet a community need, the City should lower the barrier of entry. This includes moving the housing development projects up in the queue on the planning board and waivers on their general development fees. Overall we have a challenge as to how we as a community pay for creating more affordable housing. With so much broad consensus that Affordable Housing is the most immediate issue facing our community and we must look at the community as a whole to help fund this program. Much like we fund Open Space with a sales tax, we should explore a sales tax or other broad revenue streams as a way to spread the cost across the whole community to achieve our affordable housing goals. Using a sales tax to fund Open Space is a commitment that every resident in this community supports - we inherently support the preservation, maintenance and recreation on Boulder’s Open Space. I have yet to meet a person who does not believe that Affordable Housing is the #1 concern in our community. It makes sense to extend the logic and to fund our affordable housing the same way we fund our Open Space.


Permanent Affordability:


Creating truly permanent affordable housing is perhaps the most important long term goals of our affordable housing program. Without a mechanism to keep the affordable units we have in the inventory, we risk having to build in perpetuity to reach our goals. The analogy of bailing water from a leaking ship fits this situation best. We must first stop the hemorrhaging before we have a chance at getting ahead of the problem. Land trusts that are purchase land for environmental protection is something we are familiar with, but we should use the concept for economic protection. Denver and many other communities around the country are using land trusts to build pockets of permanent affordability. I will focus on studying and implementing community land trusts, where we decouple the value of land from the cost of building housing. This can create “real” permanence within the affordable housing market. There are many ways in which incentivize developers to contribute to the benefit of our community and I will work to explore and lead our council to an evidenced based approach.


Land Use and Zoning:


Neighborhoods all over Boulder have expressed feeling pressured to contribute to the City’s developmental and affordable housing needs. Every neighborhood in Boulder is unique and it’s residents take pride in its individual personality. A few years ago the topic of Co-Ops was on the ballot. Co-ops are a viable way to increase affordable housing throughout the community. Many neighborhoods felt threatened by its broad implementation across Boulder and how they would impact the character of their neighborhoods. We should be ensuring that every neighborhood has a voice and is considered for it’s own values. The best way to understand this is by listening to its residents, and ultimately allowing them representation at all levels of government. As a South Boulder resident, I am passionate about the CU-South property, and have a vested interest in its outcome.


Before we put pressure on all neighborhoods to change, I support the use of “Sub Community Plans” as a vehicle to give the City greater insight as to the needs of these areas of Boulder. Sub Community plans are made up of groups of neighborhoods, businesses and community resources. These plans will help us establish areas of stability and areas of change. Areas of stability are neighborhoods and/or commercial areas that the city intends to not put pressure on to change. Whereas areas of change will be where the city focuses its efforts to meet developmental, residential and transportation needs. One of the main goals of designating theses two types of areas is to lower the temperature and to create opportunities for us to work together to put our Future First.


After identifying the areas of change, the City needs to first focus on efficient zoning and land use closer to the city center. There are hundreds of acres that are currently inhabited by warehouses, parking lots and industrial zoning that should first be explored for rezoning before the City pressures neighborhoods with up-zoning and drastic changes. For example, the geographic center of town (West of foothills, South of Pearl, North of Arapahoe) is dominated by warehouse and industrial zoning. This is a perfect area to be re-zoned for mixed-use residential buildings that focus on a diverse economic spectrum. It’s not far from Downtown and is flanked by major transit arteries. The businesses existing in this area have seen skyrocketing rents due to the value of this land, so the relocation of them to further east in the county would be beneficial to their bottom line.


Affordable housing, along with many other issues in our community, has become emotional and has led to a lot of the polarization we are experiencing. This polarization means that some of our community and some of my fellow city council candidates want to swing the pendulum dramatically. This election has the power to swing the pendulum too far in either direction, be it anti-growth or irresponsible development. With two open seats in this election, I ask that you choose your candidate wisely, and remember that moderation will diffuse the polarization. My scientific background and evidence-based approach will stabilize this pendulum and will keep us on a solid path forward to reach our affordable housing goals.

© 2017 by Matt Benjamin - Paid for by the Committee To Nominate Matt Benjamin for Council