Affordable housing is a vital component of a thriving community. Research shows that stable, affordable housing is crucial to a community's health, environment and overall well-being.
The city is committed to maintaining diverse housing options for all people, regardless of their income. The city implements multiple programs and policies to increase access to affordable housing to ensure that families and individuals have safe and affordable places to live in Boulder.
By the Numbers
From 1992 to 2021, the number of permanently affordable homes in the city increased from 981 to 3,767. Tracking key metrics like this one helps create an affordable housing system based on best practices and data driven results.
The Affordable Housing Dashboard displays data about affordable housing in the City of Boulder.
Affordable Housing Goals
The City of Boulder has a goal for 15% of all homes to be affordable for low-, moderate-, and middle-income households by 2035. These goals are part of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, which outlines the community vision for Boulder's future.
The city has come a long way since 1991, when less than 1,000 units in Boulder were affordable. As of January 2023, there are over 3,940 affordable homes, more than halfway to the 15% goal.
The goal is adjusted annually to account for market rate developments. Affordable housing is typically defined as households spending less than 30% of their income on housing. In Boulder, affordable housing refers to homes that are deed restricted in perpetuity to ensure long-term affordability. This applies to both rental and ownership.
Affordable Housing Challenges
- High demand, with limited space available for new homes
- Boulder’s shrinking economic middle
- Detached single-family homes are increasingly only affordable to the wealthy
- Attached condos and apartments are more affordable, but less appealing to families
- Many attainable homes are aging or are affordable because they need updates
- A large percentage of Boulder workers live in surrounding communities
- How to foster diverse housing options in existing residential areas
Affordable Housing Strategy
The City of Boulder actively works to increase affordable housing through policies, programs and regulations. This includes maintaining existing permanently affordable housing units and increasing the stock of permanent affordable housing through the preservation of existing housing and development of new affordable homes.
The city utilizes several methods to secure funding for affordable housing such as commercial linkage fees, inclusionary housing policies, property taxes and other external funds. Employing these techniques has successfully increased funding for affordable housing in the city.
Every five years, the city analyzes housing and community development needs and identifies goals for allocating federal funds. That study, called the Consolidated Plan, details how the city proposes to allocate Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the Boulder/Broomfield HOME Consortium funding sources to address affordable housing. The study also has an analysis of housing market data and affordability gaps and a resident survey designed to collect information on residents’ housing, community development and human services and needs.
In addition, the city serves as a leader in the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership, which is committed to addressing diverse housing needs across the region. The regional plan defines a unified vision, goals and strategies to provide affordable housing in Boulder County.
The city's Housing Advisory Board advises the city council and city staff on housing issues, strategies, goals and policies.
History of Affordable Housing in Boulder
Half a century ago, Boulder recognized that housing affordability was an emerging issue and took bold steps to address those challenges. Boulder’s affordable housing programs have evolved over that time into a nationally respected approach for addressing housing needs.
Middle Income Strategy
Between 1989 and 2017, Boulder’s share of middle-income households decreased 6%, with a corresponding increase in high income households. Though complex local, national and international economic factors may underlie some of this shift, ultimately housing is the infrastructure of socioeconomic diversity. The city’s sustainability framework recognizes this, calling for housing options to accommodate a diverse community
In 2016, the city adopted a Middle Income Housing Strategy that led to the inclusion of middle-income in the city’s 15% affordable housing goal.
The city is working to meet this goal through several tactics, including land use and policy changes, middle income down-payment assistance, community benefit zoning, updates to inclusionary housing and annexation and preservation.
In January 2022, Boulder City Council designated a Middle Income Down Payment Pilot as one of ten priorities for the 2022/23 term. Learn more about the pilot on the city's website.
Manufactured Housing Strategy
More than 1,300 households live in Boulder’s five manufactured housing communities, which provide a lifestyle valued by their residents at a relatively affordable cost. The city has committed to preserving this housing option and has taken many supportive actions.
Inclusionary Housing (IH) is a regulatory requirement that ensures that all new residential development provide 25% of the total dwelling units as permanently affordable housing. Of the 25%, 80% of the homes should be affordable to low- and moderate-income households and 20% affordable to middle-income households.
For-sale developments are expected to provide at least half of the required affordable units on-site, the other half may be satisfied by providing affordable units off-site, making a cash-in-lieu contribution or donating land. Rental developments may satisfy IH with any of the above options.
There are numerous benefits to Cash-In-Lieu (CIL):
Preservation: A key strategy of the city is to purchase existing market housing and convert them to affordable homes.
More affordable homes: CIL used by our housing authority can be leveraged with other funding to create more affordable homes than required by the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. For every dollar received through CIL, the city can leverage $3 - $4 in state and federal funding to build more affordable homes.
Sustainable partnerships: Affordable homes owned by our housing authority ensure ongoing compliance of affordable requirements.
Deeper affordability: On-site units would only serve households earning 60% of the area median income (AMI), our housing authority serves households earning between 30-60% AMI.
In 2019, City Council adopted Ordinance 8359 creating a community benefits program in the form of new site review criteria related to height modifications. The goal is to create regulations and incentives for obtaining certain community benefits (in the form of affordable housing) when considering height modifications requests and/or additional floor area or density requests in new commercial or mixed-use development.
Accessory Dwelling Units
An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is an additional dwelling unit that has separate kitchen, sleeping, and bathroom facilities, attached or detached from the principal dwelling unit on a single-family lot. Homeowners can either use the ADU for themselves, rent it, or move into it to free up their principal home for others. Benefits include:
Income: Ability to grow equity by investing in income generating space and flexible housing options.
Family Support: Ability to house multi-generational families and extended family for aging-in-place. This supports familial strength, savings on senior-living and/or child care costs, and long-term household stability.
Neighborhood Strength: Neighborhood stability is strengthened for homeowners and renters. Homeowners can gain income or services from their rental units and renters gain access to housing options that often have lower rents, more rental options, and housing choices across multiple neighborhoods.
Affordable Housing Preservation
Part of the city’s approach to affordable housing is the long-term preservation of affordable housing that would otherwise be lost over time.
Affordable Housing Investments
Each year, the city distributes funds to support affordable housing in Boulder, including local and federal funding for affordable housing and community development. The city directs this funding to a wide array of affordable housing activities, including new construction, acquisition, rehabilitation, preservation, land banking, permanently supportive housing vouchers, down payment/closing cost assistance and financial education programs. All funding is directed towards activities that benefit low- and moderate-income households in Boulder.
The city is responsible for assuring compliance for investments and grants with federal, state and local regulatory requirements.
The City of Boulder is committed to making homes in our community available to a variety of people. We offer opportunities for homeownership to those with low, moderate, and middle incomes. Homes are sold at below market-rate prices to income eligible buyers who intend to owner occupy the home.
The City of Boulder is committed to having a variety of housing available that is affordable to residents of all income levels and that includes rental housing. The city partners with local organizations that help provide affordable rentals in the Boulder community
Supporting Fair Housing in Boulder
In addition to protections provided by the Fair Housing Act, the City of Boulder's Human Rights Ordinance protects against discrimination within the city limits of Boulder.
The ordinance protects against discrimination in three areas:
Public accommodation - some examples of places of public accommodation are retail stores, restaurants, health clubs and movie theaters.
Within these areas, the ordinance prohibits discrimination based on ancestry, color, creed, gender variance, genetic characteristics, immigration status, marital status, mental disability, national origin, physical disability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and source of income. In housing, it also prohibits discrimination based on custody of a minor child, parenthood and pregnancy. In employment, it also prohibits discrimination based on age, specifically age 40 years and older.
When the City Council enacted the Human Rights Ordinance in 1972, there were two main reasons for creating protection at a local level:
Protecting classes which are not protected at the state or federal levels such as sexual orientation, gender variance and genetic characteristics.
State and Federal agencies are dealing with a much larger volume of complaints and therefore a complaint at the state or federal level can be time consuming. The City of Boulder Office of Human Rights is generally able to process complaints more promptly than larger agencies.
Learn more about Boulder’s Human Rights Ordinance and find information about filing a complaint on the city’s website