If you go

What: Boulder open house on Comprehensive Housing Strategy, Access Management and Parking Strategy and Zero Waste Strategic Plan

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Monday

Where: West Senior Center, 909 Arapahoe Ave.

More info: To learn more about the Comprehensive Housing Strategy, go to bouldercolorado.gov/chs. For information on parking and access, go to bouldercolorado.gov/amps. For information on zero waste, go to bouldercolorado.gov/lead.

Allowing for more density in projects that include affordable housing, easing the occupancy limit for senior citizens and rezoning commercial areas with less activity are some of the ideas Boulder is considering as it tries to craft a policy that will promote greater diversity in housing types for residents of all income levels.

Boulder is in the midst of developing a Comprehensive Housing Strategy to encourage the development of more housing for people who work in Boulder and protect what remains of the city's economic diversity.

The city is hosting an open house on Monday on the housing strategy, as well as on two other topics -- Access Management and Parking Strategy and the Zero Waste Strategic Plan.

Boulder has already done a survey on housing issues that received more than 3,000 responses and held a few neighborhood forums, but this is the first broad outreach effort of the new housing strategy effort.

"We don't want to assume that we have the right answers or the right tools," Senior Planner Jay Sugnet said. "What are the big issues? What should the city focus on? Which tools do you think have the most promise?"

Boulder has identified a number of housing challenges that the strategy needs to address: The city losing its "economic middle" — households that make between $65,000 and $150,000 a year — and roughly 60 percent of people who work in Boulder, including many city employees, don't live here. The city's demographics are also changing, with student and senior populations expected to grow. The city is largely built out, with limited available land for new housing.

A report on the housing survey isn't complete yet, but Sugnet said many people who work in the city said they weren't priced out so much as they traded a longer commute for better value in their housing options. However, many of them said they would be interested in living in Boulder if the right kind of housing were available and that they would accept smaller lots or a duplex home.

The survey also found that 43 percent of older respondents are considering moving elsewhere due to rising costs.

A push to raise the occupancy limit

City planners have developed a draft "toolkit" of policies that could make housing more affordable to a broader cross-section of the population.

Sugnet said planners are still in the very early stages of analyzing those tools. Some may be relatively easy to implement, while others involve significant trade-offs.

Advocates for cooperative housing have pushed the City Council to raise the occupancy limit that prevents more than three or four unrelated people from living together, depending on the zoning, no matter how many bedrooms a house has. Some neighborhood groups have, in turn, pushed back, saying that abandoning the occupancy limit will mean families will be driven out in favor of student rentals.

But advocates for senior citizens have also asked the City Council to raise the limit to allow for "Golden Girls" type living situations that will help older people continue to live independently.

Sugnet said city staff may recommend lifting the occupancy limit for people aged 62 and older while they continue to analyze the implications of the limit for the rest of the population.

Other possibilities include making it easier to create rental co-ops by waiving some of the parking and open space requirements and changing the occupancy limit for that kind of housing.

The toolkit includes ideas that city planners know will be controversial. The housing strategy guidelines calls for open discussion of trade-offs and consideration of new ideas.

Other options in the toolkit include: expanding down payment assistance and the Section 8 housing voucher program, offering density bonuses for developers who create affordable housing, waiving fees, taxes and requirements for projects that meet city housing goals, rezoning in underutilized commercial areas, as was done for Boulder Junction and the Holiday neighborhood.

Additional options are raising the height limit, changing or getting rid of the Residential Growth Management System that aims to cap growth at 1 percent a year and requiring non-housing development to contribute a certain amount of residential development.

"We're trying to identify tools that can provide housing choice and options," Sugnet said. "We're trying to not focus on one population or income level."

Questioning sincerity of city's commitment

Boulder developer Lou Della Cava, who recently completed the workforce, market-rate apartment complex Two Nine North at 30th and Walnut streets, said the city's previous housing strategy, which created the inclusionary housing requirements, has contributed to the erosion of middle-income housing.

Inclusionary housing requires that 20 percent of all new housing developments be permanently affordable deed-restricted housing. Developers have the option of building that housing off-site or paying cash-in-lieu for smaller projects.

Della Cava said that ends up making the other 80 percent of the housing more expensive.

"I think they thought they could impose this obligation on the private sector, and it would come out of their profits, but there are no profits if there isn't some small black number at the bottom line, because the bank won't lend you the money," he said.

He estimated that renters at Two Nine North are paying $250 to $350 more a month to make up for the affordable units.

Della Cava said the city needs to allow more density if it wants affordable housing and should consider paying for lower-income housing out of a property tax increase, rather than asking the private sector to bear the cost.

But after participating in past initiatives to develop more affordable housing, including a 2010 task force that generated many of the ideas in the toolkit, Della Cava said he sometimes questions the sincerity of the city's commitment.

He noted that here are an estimated 50,000 in-commuters. Housing just 20 percent of them in the city would mean building 10,000 new units in a city with limited available land.

Andy Allison, a developer who has done many affordable housing projects with Thistle Communities, as well as market-rate housing, said the cost of housing is "pretty simplistic."

"You have very expensive land and a fairly intense city process," he said.

Allowing for more density would definitely make a difference, he said, but many people in Boulder don't want that — including lower- and middle-income homebuyers.

"In affordable housing, we hear the same thing from the buyers — room inside the house, a yard, a garage for storage," he said. "It's not like there's some different kind of buyer."

Betsey Martens, executive director at Boulder Housing Partners, said the community conversation needs to happen before the tools are analyzed.

"We have no shortage of ideas, but we need clear direction form the community," she said.

"I think past attempts have focused a lot on tools and tactics, and then you're debating technicalities. You need to keep pulling it back. I think this phase of this discussion should be about community character and the vision for who we want to be."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 , meltzere@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/meltzere