Some ideas on affordable housing

Tackling the dearth of affordable housing represents one of the greatest challenges for the region.

Near the top of any list of least-affordable communities in Colorado is Boulder, where the median sales price for a single-family home reached $892,250 in the January-to-April timeframe, according to data from Re/Max Alliance.

While Boulder prices have surged, other communities along the Front Range also are grappling with rapidly increasing housing costs and a lack of new product coming onto the market.

But what can be done to create more affordable housing overall? Jill Grano, a Realtor with Re/Max Alliance, recently outlined the problem posed by Boulder’s median price, as well as potential solutions, in a recent commentary.

“This makes it nearly impossible for our teachers, nurses, law enforcement, artists, etc. to afford to live in the town in which they work,” Grano said. “Currently, about 60,000 people commute into Boulder each day to work, and many report that they commute in because they can’t afford to live here.”

Some solutions? Grano offers her top three, focusing on the Boulder market. (These three are taken verbatim from her commentary.)

• Consider existing land and identify opportunities. “We need to get ahead of development by taking a close look at existing land and the existing zoning districts and identify opportunity within them,” wrote Grano, who currently serves on the Board of Zoning Adjustments. “In 2015, a 6.35-acre parcel of land in north-central Boulder sold to a buyer who is building one large home on the property because the property is still zoned ‘Agricultural,’ and is not easily subdivided. This property would have provided a perfect opportunity to purchase and build affordable housing on it had the zoning been different.”

• Encourage creation of residential community land trusts. Boulder currently has some land trusts in place. “Within the land trust structure I envision for Boulder, a nonprofit (or city-nonprofit partnership) would own plots of land and lease small parcels within their plot to private owners who can then put homes such as mobile homes, tiny homes, prefabricated homes, etc. on the parcel they lease,” wrote Grano. “Owners reap the benefit of their home’s appreciation, but prices remain naturally low because the land is not owned by the homeowner.”

• Encourage developers to build more permanently affordable homes. The city of Boulder has an excellent deed-restricted affordable housing program, which has a tremendous amount of demand within it. Through the permanently affordable program, called “Homeworks,” homes are sold at below-market-rate prices to income-eligible buyers who intend to owner-occupy the home. According to Grano, “There are lines of buyers in the Homeworks program, but not enough homes to fill demand.”

Lack of affordable housing has become a major concern for business owners seeking to recruit employees. Some have taken matters into their own hands, actually acquiring housing for their workers.

Clearly, though, solving the issue will require creative thinking on the part of city governments. Grano’s ideas might focus on Boulder, but they should be instructive for other communities frustrated with skyrocketing housing prices.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or cwood@bizwestmedia.com.

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