Suggestions for Affordable Housing


Boulder needs to develop a clear strategic direction and scale up middle income/workforce permanently affordable housing efforts to preserve a vital, diverse community. The housing challenge is overwhelming. Market appreciation is only exacerbating this problem. Time is not on our side. Interest rates are low but are headed up. We must identify NEW ways to address the challenge and act now. This means changing how housing is developed in Boulder AND doing it in a way that meets concerns about quality of life and property values.

Let’s create a specific, measurable long term goal that describes what success is, to durably house a diverse, socially equitable community in Boulder County.


Back Porch Group: In June, 2016, David Adamson, Leonard May and Karen Klerman convened an informal group of Boulder residents from diverse backgrounds to meet several times per month over coffee at Vic’s on Broadway’s Back Porch to discuss ways to address the need for housing affordable to moderate and middle income households (60-150% of Area Median Income). Although many in our group might seemingly be from opposing camps on growth and development issues, we have come together in a proactive and good faith effort to brainstorm suggestions without attachments to camps or ideologies. We have had numerous, hour+ long conversations with significant alignment of opinion, conclusions from analysis of data and regulations, and consensus around key themes.

Our participants are affiliated with, but not representing, many community organizations and perspectives: David Adamson (Goose Creek Community Land Trust), Leonard May (Architect, Plan Boulder County Board, Planning Board), Karen Klerman (Banker, BHP Board Chair), Scott Holton (Element Properties), Dan Powers (ED Boulder Tomorrow/CO Labs), Leslie Durgin (former mayor working with BHP and Boulder Chamber) and Roger Lewis (consultant to social enterprises like Urban Land Conservancy, formerly with Thistle Community Housing). Allyn Feinberg (former City Councilperson, Plan Boulder County Board, Planning Board, EcoCycle board chair) joined the group in late 2017

We exist to bring forward innovative solutions that can be tried, evaluated and inform further, larger efforts to provide durable affordable housing options.

We will help to move these ideas forward by developing a strong, diverse coalition to build the political will to ensure the Boulder area remains a healthy community for generations of today and tomorrow.


We have a significant housing challenge for “affordable” AND middle income. Developing housing is ever more difficult and we are rapidly losing middle class residents. Let’s create a specific, measurable long term goal that describes what success is, to durably house a diverse, socially equitable community in Boulder County. To do this, we need to engage our community to move beyond planning to bring forth innovative solutions. We all need to “Innovate for Impact”!


In the next 24 months, working co-creatively, Boulder neighborhoods, businesses and affordable housing developers will be empowered to experiment to build 200 permanently affordable units over and above “business as usual” (projects in the pipeline currently or soon to be included). These will be pilots from which to learn and that are capable of being scaled. Proposals from neighborhoods are especially encouraged.


By 2021 Boulder Housing Partners projects there will be ZERO market rate properties accessible for rent or purchase by those making 150% of AMI or lower – this equals thousands of current residents and employees in Boulder. In 2016, the average single- family home price topped $1 million. (BHP Study)


It is in the city’s best interest to facilitate the preservation and creation of housing for middle income earners. However we recognize Boulder is the most expensive neighborhood in a larger regional community as well as the regional employment center and cannot provide housing for all who wish to live here. But we can do MUCH MORE to house those who WORK here. The region has a role as well and improved convenient, affordable, low carbon transportation between neighboring cities must be developed.

The goal long term must be for PERMANENT broad spectrum (low to middle income) affordability if we want a durable solution. Building predominantly market-rate housing is an inadequate solution; “market rates” are the problem.

Evaluate the impact of gentrification on property taxes on current residents and to what extent they may be displaced by escalating taxes.

Explore the financial benefits and political feasibility of generating more of public revenue from a land value tax on larger property owners and less from sales and property taxes on building improvements.



  1. In order to achieve goals, progress toward the goals must be tracked city-wide and monitored with a publicly available dashboard.

  2. Let the City Planning and Sustainability Department report at each Council meeting our progress towards reducing the net shed rate.

  3. Evaluation: Determine effectiveness of pilots and lessons learned.

  4. Fund an independent 3rd party evaluator.


The market is not able to adequately delivery solutions for housing affordability. The market is in fact the problem. The market causes the persistent erosion of existing affordable housing – what is affordable today will not be affordable tomorrow. Explore the range of potential outcomes if the City were to buy outright, or, facilitate the purchase by residents, of multi-family housing complexes and mobile home parks, and put them in a rent restricted or deed restricted permanently affordable housing pool thereby decoupling them from the local real estate market. This would require public money in the form of a bond and a tax to cover debt service in the first years until rent revenues or resale revenues cover the debt service on the bond. Such an exploration should include an economic analysis to establish the optimum


Boulder’s housing units currently considered affordable are on a trend to disappear within the next five years.

Development and redevelopment must not, in both absolute numbers and as a percentage of total housing, decrease affordable housing units. 48.5% of Boulder housing is rental and 99% of those are affordable to some portion the middle-income spectrum. Through preservation of this housing, and by making these existing units permanently affordable, Boulder can make great strides toward mitigating the affordability problem, enabling those who live here to stay.

The jobs-population balance significantly influences housing prices and must be addressed as part of a durable solution. Can we facilitate more direct action by employers to meet the housing demand business growth creates? Perhaps a linkage fee is not direct enough?


Engage neighborhoods to be part of the solution. Housing can be built that respects neighborhood character, does not add to traffic congestion, pollution, parking problems AND increases safety and mobility options. Encourage every neighborhood to innovate solutions most appropriate for its context rather than imposing solutions.

Changes to existing regulations that require and incent will be necessary to enable this vision including the following:

  • Affordable housing funding should NOT depend on building high end housing. Flip the proportion from building many unaffordable housing units yielding few affordable housing units to building mostly permanently affordable housing units.

  • Require and incent provision of affordable housing. Base incentives on clearly defined permanently affordable housing delivery requirements in return for incentives.

Incentives could include prescriptive pathways to project approvals.

  • Promote mixed use developments: Encourage the owners of single use buildings to construct, where appropriate, additional stories with permanently affordable housing. For example residential above retail (Basemar shopping center, Meadows shopping center, Table Mesa shopping center).

  • Eliminate Code incentives to build larger, more expensive units and instead incent creation of modestly sized, more affordable housing units.

  • Re-evaluate parking requirements. We must constantly incentivize a rapid shrinking of total fossil fuel transportation energy use. This can be done in a way that improves mobility, health and overall quality of life. Unbundling parking is part of the solution.

  • The City of Boulder should contribute its land for the development of permanently affordable housing. To avoid “analysis paralysis”, Boulder should set aside its excess land for permanently affordable housing. Let’s accelerate development of the Boulder Community Hospital site by hiring a master developer/consultant to start the development of significant permanently affordable mixed income housing there. An area plan can continue but should not delay meeting our already well established housing needs.

  • Prioritize availability of permanently affordable housing for community service providers (teachers, policemen, firemen, etc.).

Greater resources are necessary to achieve increased affordability, especially when enhanced requirements and incentives are not adequate to deliver affordability.

  • Allocate funds to fill the affordability gap between the sale price of existing housing projects and what affordable housing developers can make work financially.

  • Allocate funds for enhanced transit that better links regional housing to Boulder jobs.

(promoted during 2017; perhaps they can still guide overall planning efforts).

  1. The city will develop regulations and policies to ensure that:
    A) development and redevelopment do not result in a net percentage (of overall housing) loss of housing units or numerical loss of housing units affordable to 150% AMI households and lower AND B) new residential development is predominantly permanently affordable to 150% AMI households and lower.

  2. Community benefits: The City will ensure that significant additional community benefits are derived when development potential is increased beyond that which is allowed by-right according to zoning. These benefits should be durable and prioritize permanently affordable mixed income housing. Additional benefits for consideration include affordable business space toward retaining local small businesses and affordable arts space.

  3. Enhanced Permanently Affordable Housing for Additional Residential Development Potential: The city will develop regulations and policies to ensure that when additional density is provided through changes to zoning, the additional development potential for the residential use will be predominantly permanently affordable housing for low, moderate, and middle income households.

Let’s create a specific, measurable long term goal that describes what success is, to durably house a diverse, socially equitable community in Boulder County.
— Back Porch Group excerpt from Daily Camera Guest Opinion March 10, 2018