Affordable Housing Ideas in Motion

City Council to set priorities for future programs
If you goWhat: Boulder City Council study session

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. The affordable housing discussion is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Where: Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway

More info: Go and look under “City Council” to read the full memo.

Adjusting zoning rules, creating new incentives for developers and making sure mobile home parks aren’t redeveloped are some of the ways Boulder could create or preserve more affordable housing, according to a city memo.

The Boulder City Council will take up the topic at its study session Tuesday night. The discussion comes in response to the work of an affordable housing task force and has gained more urgency with the debate around building an apartment building for the chronically homeless at 1175 Lee Hill Drive. That debate raised questions about whether north Boulder is carrying too much of the burden of providing affordable housing for the rest of the city.

A third of the city’s affordable housing program is aimed at those with little or no income, while other efforts are aimed at working people who cannot afford to live in Boulder.

“There are several things that council will be tackling,” said Karen Rahn, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services. “There is the cost of living. We are approaching build-out. It’s a wide range of issues that drive up the cost of housing. We live in a wonderful place, a highly desirable place to live.”

Since 1997, the city has had a goal of making 10 percent of its housing — roughly 4,500 units — permanently affordable to low- to moderate-income households. That’s defined as those earning up to 80 percent of the area median income, or $66,950 for a family of three.

That’s been done through deed restrictions and through facilitating additional affordable rental housing through Boulder Housing Partners, the city’s housing authority, and area nonprofits such as Thistle Communities. In that time, 2,295 permanently affordable units have been created, a number that includes 275 beds at the homeless shelter and in transitional housing.

The city added its “middle-income goal” in 2009. That calls for adding 450 permanently affordable units for households earning between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income, up to $100,200 for a family of three. So far, 102 units have been added, almost exclusively through annexation. As part of demonstrating their project’s “community benefit,” developers seeking annexation to the city have to make between 40 and 50 percent of their units permanently affordable.

In the memo, staff members from the city’s Housing and Human Services and Community Planning and Sustainability departments laid out some ideas that could help Boulder maintain its affordable housing stock or add more units.

One item identified as a top priority by the staff is refining the city’s inclusionary zoning policy, which requires developers to provide a certain amount of permanently affordable housing along with market-rate housing or provide cash-in-lieu that goes into an affordable housing fund, supporting other programs.

As the market has shifted more toward rental units and away from owner-occupied housing, developers have been including fewer affordable units on site, which has raised questions about the siting of affordable rental units and the cash-in-lieu option.

City housing officials also are looking at how affordable housing requirements are calculated.

“Inclusionary housing is our big workhorse,” Boulder Senior Housing Planner Michelle Allen said. “That creates a lot of units and brings in a lot of funds for other programs. Keeping that program up-to-date and working as efficiently as possible is really important.”

The memo suggests that land-use rules, including density, transit-oriented development and allowing more accessory units in residential neighborhoods, might create more market-rate middle-income housing, but Allen said that won’t necessarily do away with the need for the permanently affordable housing created through the city’s programs.

“They could be affordable today and not affordable tomorrow,” Allen said.

The memo also seeks guidance from the City Council on whether Boulder should develop new incentives to encourage developers to include more affordable housing, whether the city should intervene if a mobile home park is targeted for redevelopment and whether remodeling projects that convert rental units into condos should be included in affordable housing requirements.

The memo also identifies affordable housing for seniors as an area that needs more study and asks whether the city would benefit from having an Affordable Housing Board, similar to the other advisory boards that help shape city policy on everything from open space to historic preservation.

Stuart Grogan, development director for Boulder Housing Partners, said the biggest issue is finding more resources to put toward affordable housing.

“It’s expensive to create affordable housing,” he said.

It’s not an issue that’s going to go away anytime soon, he said.

“The city of Boulder has done a brilliant job ensuring that the quality of the urban environment is really high,” Grogan said. “The problem is finding the right balance between maintaining the high standards we all expect and maintaining a diverse community. It’s a really, really hard discussion.”

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or

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