Shay Castle Profile picture
Jun 16 106 tweets 14 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
That wasn't a very long break. Now on to the occupancy and affordable housing zoning discussion.

NRV: "Occupancy is an issue of great importance, an issue where there have been many opinions."

This council pledged to increase occupancy limits, which are currently 3 or 4 unrelated persons, to 4 or 5 persons.
Let's start with some numbers, because they're fun:
There are 47,037 housing units in Boulder
- Single-Family Detached: 18,736 (37.8%)
- Single-Family Attached (Duplex, Triplex, Townhome): 4,254 (9%)
- Multi-Family Attached (Condo, Apartment): 22,951 (48.8%)
- Manufactured Housing: 1,096 (4.4%)

Of those 47,037 housing units,
- 51% are rentals
- 49% owner-occupied

Of the rentals
- 33.4% in 3-person zone
- 65.6% in 4-person zone
The city is currently not enforcing occupancy limits, except for health and safety, and hasn't been since the pandemic.

I've written so much on this, so it's difficult to get all the necessary background in one piece, but you can start here:…
A lot of good info on occupancy in here as well. This was the oft-referenced Bedrooms Are For People initiative that was voted down in 2021.…
Of course, we're not just talking occupancy tonight. We're also talking zoning tweaks to increase affordability.

Planner Karl Guiler: "Obviously for 70 years, zoning has been used to restrict what type of housing can be built. That's kind of unique to North America."
Guiler: "There are studies that show those kind of restrictions have impact on supply, and when demand is high" prices increase. "There are studies showing you have to have a multi-pronged approach" to housing affordability, and zoning is part of that.
There are some articles that examine "inelastic markets," Guiler says, where demand is high, and the impacts of additional supply are limited.

But what we mostly see is that you need a multi-pronged approach, he says. "Doing nothing is not going to help."
That tracks with all the experts I've interviewed. They all say we need to do BOTH: Build more, and capture as much of it as we can as cost-controlled housing, because the market will not provide affordable housing for all.
Boulder has done well at the capturing part, having a (once upon a time) innovative inclusionary housing requirements, wherein 25% of all new housing (or the cash equivalent) are cost-restricted.

Still, they've never been able to reach their 10% goal of affordable units.
A goal that is now nearly 25 years old, and has actually been upped to 15% (which is itself a 4-yr old goal):…
The prong Boulder still doesn't employ is easing restrictive zoning.

- 58% of residential parcels are zoned for only single-family homes
- 75% of land area for residential is SF only
This is not unique to here — many, if not most, American cities do this, which in part drives our national affordable housing shortage.
As you heard tonight, and have been hearing for years, critics of less restrictive zoning say we should just double down on that one prong: up our inclusionary housing rules and fees.
Back to what council is pursuing:
From March, they supported
- Revised density calculations and set FAR in BR-1, RH-5, BC-1, BC-2, IG and IM zones
- Eliminate Use Review for efficiency units
- Reduce current parking requirements of 1.25 spaces for 1BR units to 1 space ... projects with 60%+ 1BR units
- Allow parking reductions up to 25% (maybe more) with admin process
What they're considering tonight:
- Should additional high density residential zones be included?
- Should duplexes and triplexes be allowed in RE, RR, and RL (consistent with existing BVCP land use/density limitations?)
What do Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board think of all this?
On zoning changes:
Planning Board: 3 supported duplexes/triplexes in SF neighborhoods; most generally on board with staff recommendations
2 “were more cautious of the changes”

HAB - supported, disappointed they didn’t go further; wants “aggressive” parking reform
On occupancy
Planning Board - 3 in support, 2 opposed, 2 want to tie occupancy to parking

HAB - Majority in support (one opposed)
What does the community think? As you might suspect, and in staff's words: “support and opposition being relatively even and crossing all range of perspectives”
Disclosure: I live over-occupied. I have 4 roommates. While it would be nice to live legally and with whomever I want, as an American pursuing a non-traditional lifestyle, I'm not really that chuffed about it. I think most ppl live over-occupied and don't even know it.
I kind of agree with Mark Stangl, who spoke earlier tonight: He's a rental licensing inspector who said "currently, there are more than 5 ppl living in many places in Boulder." He was opposed to increasing the limits because it "will not increase any housing stock whatsoever."
Well, I agree that many people already live over-occupied. I don't agree that we shouldn't change it for that reason... there are impacts we've heard from people who live illegally about how insecure this makes their living situation, and how it can be retaliatory.
Plus, there's the whole argument about the government not deciding what a family is or how you, an adult, should live. That's particularly problematic when it comes to LGBTQ folks, who often have chosen families, or people pursuing non-traditional lifestyles.
And a reminder: Unbiased journalism doesn't exist. Every person has biases, whether they recognize it or not. "Unbiased" means, and has always meant, reflective of the status quo. Good journos acknowledge their perspective and actively check it by including multiple perspectives.
Plus info, context, data/research and expert opinion where available.
Perspectives = good
Facts = better
Anyway, back to the discussion. Guiler has finished, and council is asking questions.

Wallach is asking for answers "based on data" rather than polling or outreach groups.
Wallach: "Do you think increasing density will increase monetization" of housing, thereby impacting families?

I'm assuming he means increase profiting off housing more than folks already do.... which is honestly hard to imagine.
Guiler: "I think it's a legit concern. It can happen to some degree. On the other side of it, I think it's a legit observation or conclusion on how zoning has an impact on what housing prices are, bc of the limited amount of land. ...
Guiler: "I think we've been adding housing for many years, and it does have an impact, but all the studies say you have to do more to try and effect that change. It is trying to mitigate for decades of a certain type of planning."
Guiler: "Not doing anything will impact housing prices the most"
Wallach of course completely ignoring Guiler's answer, as he didn't like it. "I'm asking for something that's not quite 'on the one hand, on the other hand.'"
Guiler: I struggled to find a definitive study that said, you'll do this, it will decrease the price. But I found a lot of studies that said do this AND do ADUs, do more housing, then it will help.
Wallach: Give me an example of a city where that's been done and prices have miraculously decreased.

Brad Mueller: In observing the debate and discussions, there have been assertions on both sides. We have not found definitive answers ....
We do know zoning and land use is one tool in the toolbox. This is one tool that has been explored for many years, Mueller says.
That's one of the hard parts in trying to report on this. ALL the studies and experts say "do all the things!" But no one actually DOES all the things. So ppl look around at places doing one or two things and say, "See, these things don't work!"
But also, all the studies and experts also say what doesn't work.... but attempts to undo those things are pretty unpopular.
(As is reporting on what the studies and experts say, let me tell you.)

I never gave AF about land use and zoning before I was a city gov't reporter, and I look forward to not caring after I retire.
Yates: How often do we see landlords filing for a use review to increase occupancy?
Guiler: We don't, because they can't. What we see on the Hill is non-conforming density, but they want to combine units.
The whole non-conforming thing is a bit in the weeds, but TL;DR is: When the city implemented its current occupancy limits, its grandfathered in some properties, mostly on the Hill.
So there are a few places where they have more than 4 unrelated ppl, and it's totally legal.
And there's a q about what to do with them if the citywide occupancy limits are changed.
Over 1,000 rooming units may be included in this non-conforming thing, according to Guiler.
3 folks — Wallach, Yates, Winer — prefer 4 as the new occupancy limit citywide, and the other six prefer raising it to 5

No surprise there. As a reminder, they're not actually changing it tonight, just providing feedback to staff.
A public hearing/vote on occupancy is tentatively scheduled for Aug 17
Winer: I know I'm in the minority, but I'm asking council to reconsider. 4 is a compromise that most people will not be upset with. I know we said no to carveouts, but for the sake of University Hill, it would also be a compromise.
Also says Uni Hill is one of the great, affordable family neighborhoods left for families.... ?
Winer: "It's a visionary council. People see 5 as the vision." But I also understand how people feel that they've already voted on this and their voice isn't being heard.
Brockett reminding people not to fight over the substance — which has been discussed many, many times — as there was some back-and-forth between Speer and Winer.
Wallach ignoring that to snipe back at Speer.
Oh, how I haven't missed this. I've got no stomach for this anymore.
Wallach: We did this with ADUs. We started small and then revisited it and voila, expanded it.
Winer: In my neighborhood, we could do 5 easily. But please reconsider in neighborhoods near the university.
Per a straw poll, staff will also do extra research to let council know how a higher limit of 5 people will impact non-conforming properties.
Brockett asks for changes to allow two families to live together (currently not allowed) bc that is the most common ways families deal with homelessness.…
Friend: I think we need to make sure enforcement is part of any changes. We can't ignore people's concerns.

NRV: "I cannot say enforcement is going to happening if you pass this, that we can promise you to have the enforcement you expect." We are working on it.
NRV: "I do not believe we are sufficiently staffed up to do the kind of enforcement the community is expecting. ... It is in the works, but it will not likely pass at the same time" as occupancy reforms.
LOL mouse in council chambers, behind the dais. All official business halts while ppl freak out.
That's a first in my time watching council. haha
Councilman Benjamin is chasing it around with a cup. People are screaming. It's hilarious.
"It is not a Preble's jumping mouse" someone says — a local endangered (or threatened?) species of mouse.
They turned off the video, sadly, but I'm still listening.
Must-watch TV
The mouse has been caught and the video feed is back.
Live-caught, for those of you who are wondering. No mice were harmed. This is Boulder, after all.
Back to business: Friend asks if we can push back the changing of occupancy limits to coincide with more enforcement of noise, trash, parking, etc.
Mueller: The enforcement piece isn't a discreet thing that's going to happen on a certain date. It's ordinances that are already in place or have changed recently, it's staffing up, it's coordination, etc. We recommend the proposed timeline.
Moving on from occupancy to zoning changes to get smaller and more affordable housing, as discussed earlier. Now we'll see what council supports.
A couple more pieces of data:
“Over 700 of Residential Estate parcels could theoretically be developed with a duplex, if the code was changed to allow such use, without having to update the BVCP” bc of large lot sizes

BVCP = Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan
It's the planning bible, and it would have to be changed in a lot of cases to allow more housing. But staff explored some things that could be done without updating the BVCP (which is a whole Process).
That includes allowing additional units on some of these super large lots, which would still conform to existing density regulations.

As stated earlier, there are layers and layers of rules limiting how much housing can be built in Boulder.
“In RL-1, there are over 800 parcels that, considering lot size alone, could be subdivided today to add more single-family detached dwelling units”
Oh, Jesus, we just had a reference to this change possibly creating "ghettos."

Hot tip if you're inclined to say this: Don't
Reminder: The household income needed to purchase a median-priced, single-family home in Boulder: $270,000
Yates: We already allow this. We're just expanding it into different zones, right? All other zoning districts, duplexes are allowed, if the lot is big enough? How many do we see a year?
Guiler: Yes, and double digits...?
Guiler: It would basically be removing the prohibition on duplexes and triplexes, but you'd still have to meet the same lot size requirements. Today, they'd have to legally subdivide and add another single-family house. This would allow a duplex or triplex, no subdividing.
But you'd still have to follow the rules for dwelling units per acre. (I hope this makes sense!)
RR (Residential Rural) = 2 units per acre
RE + RL = 6 units per acre, but there are additional rules currently that realistically mean you typically have only one single-family house
Friend and Winer ask if it's feasible to require owner occupancy for duplexes or triplexes? Brockett specifies that rental licenses would not be granted

Guiler: I'm not sure, legally, how that would work
Mueller: That's fairly similar to what we do with ADUs
More arguing about what these duplexes or triplexes will cost.
Getting a serious case of deja vu.
I know that sounds like sarcasm, but it's not.
Speer: What I was getting from the research papers is that adding more homes is never going to help the lowest-income folks afford housing. We're creating affordability for 20-30 years from now.
Guiler: Yes. Adding to supply over time, the more options there are, that will affect price over time.
OK, I'll check back in tomorrow. I'm exhausted for tonight.
Back at it today to finish up the meeting and the thread. Council talking about allowing more than just single-family homes in some zones — but only under current density rules.
Friend, who adds that even if the rules change, her property won't be eligible to turn into a duplex: The reason I support this is because it will bring added flexibility for multi-generational living. "I'm at that age where both my parents and my kids I'd like to have closer."
"A lot of houses are at the end of their useful life. They are going to turn over. The q is: Do we want a single-family home there, or something that will be more affordable 30 years from now? I'm a huge fan of building in future affordability that we should have done 50 yrs ago"
Speer acknowledges that the research, findings and opinions Guiler and staff shared are unpopular, but that they are simply doing work council requested.

"Please, community, get mad at us," she says, to laughter from her colleagues.
Brockett: "If you're going to get mad, get mad at us. But it's not necessarily a requirement."
Folkerts: "We are going to see a lot of turnover in certain types of housing around town. The q is not if it's going to be replaced; it's what it's going to be replaced with."

It's not only going to be replaced with a SF home, but likely a v large SF home, she says.
The avg size of the American home has increased quite a lot in recent years.…
And Boulder's homes are even bigger still: From 2010-2018, the median size of new homes (built after scraping old ones) was over 5,000 square feet(!)…
Previous councils flirted with, then rejected, a limit on home size.…
OK, back to council's discussion.

Brockett, referencing the failed large home ban of a few years ago: When we took this up before, it was because of the scrape-and-replace of small homes for truly enormous homes. This is about providing alternatives to that.
Straw poll: 8 council members interested in moving forward with allowing duplexes/triplexes in certain zones, again provided current density limits are followed.

I didn't see who the 8 were, but again, it's not a formal vote. Just direction to staff.
Public hearing and vote on these changes is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 21
One last piece of last night's discussion: Growth limits

A new state law bans those, even ones that have long been in place. Like Boulder's, which set a 1% annual growth limit — via caps on building permits — in 1976
It's actually never been reached: Boulder has grown at a rate less than that. From 2013-2022, the city had an avg. growth of 0.8% in terms of housing units.

Per staff: “As designed, the system is not limiting growth within the city.”
Boulder can repeal its growth limit, which is now illegal, or just, like, not.
Guiler: There are a number of units that are exempt from the growth limit — affordable, mixed-use, on commercial or industrial sites. "But even if you did include all of those units, (Boulder's growth) still averages less than 1% anyway."
It's not having much impact, Guiler says.
Brockett: When you say not much, it's having zero impact in the last 10-20 years, right?
Guiler: That's correct.
Unanimous informal vote to remove that section of the land use code. A failed policy will be removed, 47 years after implementation. Not by local forces, but state ones.

Government in, um, action, I guess...?
That's it for this one. Guess I should have stuck it out just a little bit longer last night. But I was so tired! I do much better work when refreshed.
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More from @shayshinecastle

Jun 16
Next up: Police oversight panel. Appointing a special counsel to look into Max Weller's complaint about the POP's work stoppage.

Plus, council might pass a moratorium on new cases, which would give some legal cover to the work stoppage.
Already tweeted this, but you can catch up here:…
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Miller was appointed in March 2020 (nominated by Mirabai Nagle). She's attended “fewer than half of scheduled board meetings and events in the past six months”

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Hi, friends. It's been awhile, but I thought I'd tweet some of tonight's meetings. The interesting and/or important bits.
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