Frequently dropping the word "affordable," Boulder City Council members said Tuesday night that they want the city to have more diverse housing choices so that underrepresented middle-income households -- those making between $50,000 and $150,000 -- can afford to live here.
Most likely, that would mean denser, attached housing, whether townhomes or condos, and it might mean changing many of Boulder's development rules.
Some of the ideas considered at a study session on the city's comprehensive housing policy included reducing parking requirements, making it easier to build cottages and other accessory dwelling units, finding small undeveloped lots and targeting them for rezoning for certain kinds of housing, relaxing the city's height restrictions in some areas and changing rules that limit how many unrelated people can live in a single home or apartment.
City Council members also raised the prospect of developing the current municipal airport site or the planning reserve, a 500-acre area north of Jay Road and east of U.S. 36, for housing.
The council did not take any action at the study session, which was designed to provide direction to housing department employees about what types of strategies to pursue.
The housing department will do a detailed housing needs study over the summer, as well as surveys of best practices around certain kinds of development, and return to the council in the fall.
"It is very likely that we will never solve the affordability problem in Boulder, but we can adopt policies that influence who lives here," said Jeff Yegian, Boulder's acting housing division manager.
Several council members said the city is essentially done with building new single-family detached homes, at least as a strategy for attracting middle-income workers and families.
Councilwoman Lisa Morzel pointed to the popularity of co-housing arrangements, in which people live semi-communally in smaller homes with shared common areas. Councilman Macon Cowles went so far as to say many younger people are "revolted" by the idea of living in a stand-alone house.
But Councilwoman K.C. Becker said the council members have not put their money where their mouth is, either in their own living choices or in their votes. She pointed to the rezoning of the Goss-Grove neighborhood to make it more difficult to develop multi-unit housing there, a move opposed by Naropa University, which would like to see more student housing in the area.
"Every single one of us saying this lives in a single-family detached house," Becker said. "To say that attached housing is the answer, that is the answer for a certain kind of buyer, but if we say that is the answer, we have to be willing to vote for it."
Cowles said detached housing that would be affordable to middle-income people would be of poor quality.
"I don't think putting up ticky-tacky houses with a patch of lawn is the answer," he said.
"I didn't say put up ticky-tacky houses with a patch of lawn," Becker responded.
Becker said the market is going to demand -- and builders will continue to provide -- detached housing, and some of it could be more affordable.
Councilwoman Suzanne Jones said the city needs to keep the regional context in mind. She said the city should build the types of housing it wants to see for a sustainable community. There will almost certainly be demand for it, but other people will choose to pay less money per square foot and live in Longmont in a detached house.
Though there was recognition that the city will need to make hard policy choices if it wants to promote a different kind of housing stock, council members did not agree about all of the trade-offs.
Morzel, for example, strongly opposes developing the planning reserve.
Jones said she would like to see a lot more infill development before she assents to taller buildings.
"Before we go up, I would like us to go in," she said. "I'm not necessarily opposed to going up, but I don't want to start there."
Council members also acknowledged that discussions about increasing density are likely to be controversial in the community.
"Really big steps that we're probably not willing to take would have a bigger impact," Becker said.
Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.