PLAN Boulder County proposes that 100 percent of new housing units created on land annexed into the city be permanently affordable with 50 percent of those units permanently affordable low-income housing, and 50 percent permanently affordable moderate-income housing. This straightforward concept should be added to the 2015 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update, currently underway. (Past city practice generally requires only 40 percent of newly created housing on annexed parcels to be permanently affordable.)
Annexations are the best opportunity for the city to maximize its affordable housing percentage of overall newly created housing, because annexation agreements enable us to achieve by contract negotiation what we cannot achieve by legislation. By state law, the city can ask for any concessions from a property owner before land is brought into Boulder.
The ability to ask for concessions is important because annexations generally also result in “up-zonings:” new zonings that allow property owners to do much more with their properties than they could before their annexations. “Up-zoning” is thus a “giving” by the community to a property owner. That “giving” has a value and that value should be largely recaptured in the form of community benefits rather than becoming a property owner’s windfall. The “50-50 Housing Proposal” achieves this — the benefit to the community is 100 percent permanently affordable housing.
A policy similar to the 50-50 “Housing for All” proposal should also be adopted for in-city up-zonings and height exemptions. The Planning Board has continually requested that City Council determine any “community benefit” requirements for site review “givings,” and this concept is finally on the planning department work program. But as it stands now, a simple City Council majority vote (perhaps largely unobserved by the public), could severely affect surrounding neighborhoods with up-zonings and tall buildings — creating large speculative profits for developers — all with little, if any “community benefit.”
It has recently been argued by Ron Laughery in the Daily Camera that the only way to solve the affordable housing dilemma in Boulder is to build much taller buildings. But this is wrong. It will not work. See the following quote from Forbes Magazine discussing how ineffective high-rise buildings have been toward creating affordable housing (Dec. 15, 2015):
The failure of high-density (high rise) housing to relieve the affordability crisis is most evident in the Golden State. …San Jose and San Francisco have experienced huge home price increases and are among the most unaffordable major metropolitan markets in the nation.
Citizens have repeatedly affirmed the high priority they place on addressing Boulder’s affordable housing. Most recently, the Boulder Valley Comp Plan statistically weighted survey indicated support for “allowing additional housing potential in Boulder only if a substantial amount of any future housing is permanently affordable to low and middle incomes” (60 percent support). (See: bouldercolorado.gov/bvcp/bvcp-survey)
The average price of a home in Boulder is now well north of $1 million. This is exacerbated by the many new commercial projects that create demand for additional housing but do not provide any housing, housing subsidies, or otherwise offset their impact on housing affordability arising from their hundreds of new employees. With Boulder’s population expected to rise to 136,000 by 2040 from the current population of slightly over 100,000, the need for the “50-50 policy” becomes increasingly important.
Permanently affordable annexations would make new areas of the city a little more like the historic, university town of Galesburg, Illinois — welcoming, vital, and inclusive. Here in Boulder we have fine examples of affordable housing communities such as “Red Oak” on Valmont near Folsom, “Iris Hollow” on Iris and Folsom and “Holiday Drive-In” on U.S. 36 at the north edge of town. Modular housing, co-ops and other normally low-cost housing types should be prioritized. Transit can serve the density well. This proposal is a practical alternative to annexations resulting in luxury enclaves. Do we really need another wave of McMansions? PLAN Boulder thinks not.
PLAN Boulder calls upon citizens, developers, the real estate community, Boulder Housing Partners, and other social service organizations, to join in support of the “50-50” proposal. We all have a common interest in creating permanently affordable low, moderate, and middle-income housing, to foster a Boulder that is innovative, diverse, and welcoming.