Tayer: Housing is fundamental
As a young kid, I remember advertisements for a program that worked to provide free books to kids, Reading is Fundamental (RIF). The premise of RIF, which still thrives to this day, is that access to books and encouragement for children to read is the foundation for literacy and all that means for future education advancement and economic mobility. While providing access to homes isn’t as simple as giving away free books, it’s just as fundamental.
Child welfare advocates certainly will make the case that stable shelter also is critical for educational attainment. With a different lens, business leaders recognize the dearth of accessible housing as the main barrier to securing sufficient workforce talent. And for those who strive to reduce homelessness, not surprisingly, they find that accessible housing is the solution. I could go on — noting that professionals in fields ranging from health care, social justice, environmentalism, to human nutrition all agree — housing is fundamental to achieving their respective missions.
Locally, groups such as the Boulder Chamber and Better Boulder have been carrying this message for quite some time. It has been, at times, a lonely battle. The forces aligned against our efforts have their own alternative messaging that typically paints further housing development as contrary to well-established benefits for the environment, affordability and mobility. And, of course, there is the oft murmured threat to “neighborhood character.”
With these words in his State of the State address, though, Gov. Jared Polis is signaling a new statewide awakening to the fundamental importance of housing: “Housing policy is economic policy. Housing policy is transportation policy. Housing policy is water policy. Housing policy is public health and equity policy.” Gov. Polis went further to articulate the very same agenda many of us have fought to achieve here in our region: “This means that we need more flexible zoning to allow more housing, streamlined regulations that cut through red tape, expedited approval processes for projects like modular housing, sustainable development, and more building in transit-oriented communities.”
I could barely contain my enthusiasm in media coverage of the governor’s ambitious housing agenda, offering these sentiments: “We applaud the governor’s focus on housing and transportation in his State of the State. In Boulder, home ownership is beyond the means of more than 60% of our residents. The remainder of Colorado isn’t far behind with housing prices skyrocketing. If our businesses want to continue to attract a diverse, competitive workforce, we need innovative solutions that create the kind of housing they can afford. There are nearly 110 days left for lawmakers to craft a solution this year; it’s time to get all hands on deck.”
Indeed, the Boulder Chamber is ready to get on deck as the legislature begins to turn these housing themes into legislative policy. We know moving initiatives forward that create more opportunities for accessory dwelling units, expedite permit approvals, and remove growth caps will challenge jealously guarded traditions of local control, from quarters in our own community to powerful representatives of city government authority, like the Colorado Municipal League. Already we hear familiar concerns regarding “one-size-fits-all” approaches and offers to step to the plate with creative local solutions as counters to the imposition of statewide mandates.
Let the negotiations begin, but let’s not take our eye off the ball!
The stakes are enormous for our economy and communities, which is reflected in the broad ranging support for the governor’s housing agenda. In speaking about the effort, former Boulder County commissioner and current executive director the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Elise Jones, offered these thoughts from an environmental-focused perspective: Colorado is grappling with dual climate and housing affordability crises. . . . The benefits of smart growth and compact development are immense, including more affordable housing types closer to jobs and transit, reduced climate and air pollution, more walkable and transit-friendly neighborhoods, less driving, and better protection for open spaces and water supplies.”
Similarly aligned with the Boulder Chamber on the economic-focused side of the housing support equation is my Denver Chamber colleague, JJ Ament. His comments are short and sweet: “Access to housing is an economic issue and a top priority for the business community to ensure we have a stable workforce.” I’d add to that a workforce that has more convenient mobility options, more funding to support a comfortable lifestyle, and on.
Regardless of who’s saying it, the message is clear: Housing is fundamental. Let’s build it.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.