Position on Co-op Ordinance

Sean KendallAffordable Housing, Development

PLAN-Boulder County has been following the development of the Co-op Ordinance since its inception and has provided input to the Planning Board and to Council on different versions of the ordinance. This letter summarizes PLAN-Boulder County’s position on the most current version of the Co-op Ordinance for your consideration at your January 3, 2017 public hearing.

PLAN-Boulder County does not support this ordinance in its current form. Although changes have been made in the iterations of this ordinance, it still asks the community to bear inequitable impacts. Communal living options, such as boarding houses and group homes, have been allowed in Boulder in higher density neighborhoods for many years; however, they have not been allowed in lower density neighborhoods.

The Co-op Ordinance currently under consideration will change this situation by allowing co-ops with up to 12 occupants to be established in low-density residential zones. This change will damage the commitments made to property owners in our zoning regulations by enabling the spread of higher density occupancies into single-family neighborhoods. Proponents of this ordinance, by seeking to place higher density occupancies in single-family neighborhoods, are essentially requiring the community to give them access to a sector of the housing market that they can’t pay for themselves.

PLAN-Boulder County recommends that co-ops only be allowed in higher density zoning districts as a pilot project for two years. They should be closely studied during the pilot period and the results publicly reported. Important aspects to be evaluated would include:

• A robust and effective enforcement mechanism, including the rigorous enforcement of occupancy violations in other housing situations, such as illegally over-occupied boarding and group houses and illegal co-ops, should be demonstrated before expanding co-ops beyond the pilot phase, and before allowing them in low density residential zones. The City has a very poor record with housing code enforcement with regard to occupancy. The City must provide neighbors and neighborhoods with assurances through an enforcement plan that has citizen input.

• The parking impacts to on-street parking must be determined. Unless a parking district is created, there seems to be little the city could do to enforce the ordinance limitation to three on-street parking spaces for a co-op. The requirement to identify the owner and the make and model of the cars belonging to the co-op has been removed from the current version of the ordinance.

If the Council’s decision is to allow co-ops in low-density zones, PLAN-Boulder County recommends that such co-ops be limited to occupancy by no more than six people, and implemented as a pilot project for a period of no more than two years. This would be twice the number of unrelated people that our current zoning regulations allow in a single- family dwelling unit, and would represent a significant expansion of the current limit. A pilot project would allow the city to evaluate the real impacts of so drastically changing the zoning regulations in low-density neighborhoods. Occupancy of more than six people should be limited to higher density zones.

PLAN-Boulder County supports the changes to the ordinance that require permanent affordability, and recommends that rental-co-ops be subject to per capita rent limitations and equity co-ops be deed-restricted so that both are permanently affordable in the future. Co-ops have been presented as a limited part of the solution to Boulder’s lack of affordable housing. But if their rents and re-sale prices are not restricted, they will intensify the problem, not reduce it.

PLAN-Boulder County recommends that the maximum effort be made to keep the co-op ordinance as simple as possible. With occupancy varying by lot size, or square footage per occupant, or whatever combinations the Council can come up with, the regulations become completely opaque to the average citizen who will have no idea what to expect to be imposed on them by this ordinance. At least make it easy for us to know how many people could be living next door.

Council should be clear what this ordinance effectively does to Boulder citizens. It increases density in single-family residential neighborhoods in a way that is only available to a very select group of people. It has met resistance from neighborhoods because it will have impacts and those impacts have real costs to neighbors and neighborhoods. Someone will end up suffering those impacts and paying those costs. The community benefit of housing affordability offered by this ordinance is so limited that the tradeoffs between neighborhood impacts and affordability remain significantly inequitable. As proposed, the ordinance achieves little community benefit, and asks too much from neighbors and neighborhoods.