Boulder could enshrine class and race exclusion into its city charter

Two ballot measures proposed by neighborhood groups, “Neighborhood Right to Vote” and “New Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” (300 & 301, respectively) aim to give citizens more rights to control growth and development in Boulder. However, support for these measures strongly biases toward homeowners and older demographics. The proposals will greatly disadvantage people who rent, people who are younger, and people who work or start companies in Boulder. But the main effect of these amendments to the city charter will be to exclude certain types of development and certain types of people from living in Boulder.

At a recent city council candidate forum hosted by The Boulder Community Housing Association, candidates discussed how to grow an inclusive and diverse city. The reality is that Boulder is both less racially diverse than the national average and also diversifying at a slower rate. According to the 2010 census, “Eighty-eight percent of Boulder’s population is White, with a 0.3 percent decrease from 2000, while the nation saw a percentage decrease of nearly 3 percent.” In part due to America’s racial wealth gap, Boulder will continue in its lack of diversity unless the city provides options for lower-income demographics that heavily skew non-white. Measures 300 and 301 would serve to uphold Boulder as an ethnically and economically homogeneous community.  

While cities themselves cannot force diversity, they do have the power to promote healthy communities by offering housing choices for wider ranges of income and family types. Both ballot amendments would serve to restrict supply and make intrinsically affordable housing—smaller footprints designed for walking, biking, and transit—financially infeasible. At a recent meeting of Boulder’s planning board on October 1st, 2015, two speakers from the audience illustrated the gap in understanding present in ballot issues 300 and 301.

In discussion about the first project at planning board, 3303 Broadway St., a woman remarked with surprise at the cost of the proposed $1000 per month one-bedroom units, saying that her “mortgage payment is less” than that (video link). Unfortunately for typical Boulder renters, the median price for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,420 per month, and the median price for a two-bedroom apartment recently topped $2,000 per month. She also believed that the units were a “monolith… of tiny cubicles stacked together” and they lacked “trees and lawns.” But the project’s efficiency-sized units are an attractive option to the younger generation, housing one or two people who desire to live and work near downtown, serving potential employees that might otherwise in-commute. If ballot amendment 301 passes, additional fees placed on new development will likely make smaller-footprint units uneconomical, forcing a continued upward pressure on rents in the city.

A second speaker at planning board that evening commented on a related project at 2801 Jay Road, designed to provide a significant percentage of affordable housing to complement the Broadway site. The man stated that “wherever there’s low income, affordable housing, there’s crime. I am adverse to crime” (video link). Such opinion has no factual basis. If ballot measure 300 passes, our city charter will give outsize power for neighborhood fear to block plans that would allow more affordable housing through zoning or occupancy limit changes.

One of the main arguments for 301, that “development shall pay its own way,” claims that fees collected could lead to additional affordable housing built in Boulder. However, Boulder has never lacked funding for permanently affordable housing, which will be even more true with the recent Commercial Linkage Fee phasing in next year. Rather, the problem lies in that developers can rarely build truly affordable housing due to high overhead costs and neighborhood pushback, both worsened by 300 and 301.

Cities must work to appeal to all facets of society in order to maximize their value. Boulder real estate prices already put significant pressure on teachers, police officers, firefighters, and young families trying to afford living within city limits. Ballot measures 300 and 301 will only accelerate the problem. I urge you to vote down these proposals so that we can continue our work in making Boulder a more equitable and inclusive city.


4 thoughts on “Boulder could enshrine class and race exclusion into its city charter

  1. Worth noting: if the anti-building NIMBYs get their way, I can tell you what happens next. Housing prices will soar. Whenever an existing owner sells out, no individual and no nuclear family will be able to afford their house — the houses will instead be bought up by professional landlords. Those landlords will charge astronomical rents for decrepit houses. Those houses will be rented by groups (multiple families) who pool their money together, because that’ll be the best they can find…

    Also, as the price of their house goes up, into the millions, the bidding wars will intensify, and more and more of those single-family homeowners WILL sell out, deciding that several million dollars in cash makes it worth moving out of Boulder.

    We’ve watched this happen across the country, from Ithaca, NY to Portland, Oregon, and most dramatically in San Francisco. Sure, it’s great for existing owners who want to sell out for millions, but it’s a terrible dynamic for everyone else. Eventually the whole city is occupied by renters in illegal sublets, and they vote to repeal all the bullcrap restrictions on development, but it takes decades, and housing conditions get really terrible in the meantime.

  2. Do we want to be Los Gatos or Saratoga, CA or do we want to be Seattle, WA? The former are nothing but sprawlville bedroom communities, the latter is a vibrant, bustling, economic powerhouse.

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