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Housing Goals and Tools

Housing Boulder Goals*

In September 2014, City Council adopted goals to help guide the development of the housing strategy.

1. Strengthen Our Current Commitments

Reach or exceed Boulder’s goals to serve very low-, low-, and moderate-income households, including people with disabilities, special needs, and the homeless.

Fact Sheet - Strengthen Our Current Commitments pdf


  • Establish a target date to achieve the current 10 percent goal of permanently affordable units.
  • Establish clear funding priorities to accomplish the goal.
  • Identify or create new policies or funding resources to accelerate progress.

2. Maintain the Middle

Provide a greater variety of housing choices for middle-income families and Boulder’s workforce.

Fact Sheet - Maintain the Middle pdf


  • Explore options to preserve the affordability of existing housing.
  • Facilitate the creation of relatively affordable attached townhomes and other higher-density, but family-supportive, housing types through land use and zoning changes (to be addressed through the 2015 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan Update).
  • Identify opportunities for the city to support greater use of location-efficient mortgages to increase purchasing power.
  • Create a middle-income down-payment assistance or low-interest financing program.

3. Diverse Housing Choices

Facilitate the exploration of a variety of housing options for every part of the city.

Fact Sheet - Create Diverse Housing Choices pdf


  • Make it easier and more financially feasible to develop accessory dwelling units and owner accessory units (e.g., granny flats and carriage houses).
  • Make it possible for groups of unrelated individuals (e.g., seniors or cooperatives) to share housing (above the current occupancy limits).
  • Make it possible to create duplex units, small townhome developments, and other appropriately scaled and contextually fitting multi-unit housing in existing single-family neighborhoods.
  • Establish minimum density standards or alternative approaches to managing density to avoid creating new areas that offer only large, high-priced, single-family homes.

4. Create 15-Minute Neighborhoods

Foster mixed-income, mixed-use, highly walkable neighborhoods in amenity-rich locations (e.g., close to public transit, parks, open space and trails, employment, retail services, etc.).


  • Identify areas for housing that are appropriate to the context and then offer a variety of housing types and styles to meet Boulder’s future housing needs.
  • Partner with nonprofit housing developers to create mixed-income, mixed-use developments on key opportunity sites.
  • Explore new tools to incentivize or require desired unit mixes, types, or sizes, such as “benefit capture” provisions connected to property rezoning.
  • Establish a pattern book of desired housing outcomes, particularly for family-friendly, higher-density housing and housing that meets special needs, linked to streamlined review processes.

5. Strengthen Partnerships

Strengthen current partnerships and explore and form creative and inclusive new public-private, public-public or other partnerships (e.g. neighborhood, regional, financial or transportation-related) to address our community’s housing challenges and expand housing options (e.g. University of Colorado, private developers, financing entities, affordable housing providers, etc.).

Fact Sheet - Strengthen Partnerships pdf


  • Work with CU to facilitate housing development in key locations (e.g., north of Boulder Creek, Williams Village, and South Campus).
  • Create a project development and facilitation role within the city.
  • Facilitate expansion of Boulder Housing Partners’ role.

6. Enable Aging in Place

Support and encourage housing options for seniors of all abilities and incomes and their caregivers, enabling them to remain in the community, with access to services and formal and informal support.  

Fact Sheet - Enable Aging in Place pdf


  • Work with existing and new partners to meet the housing needs of seniors by providing appropriate housing choices and a range of options.
  • Strengthen and expand the community’s support services for seniors.
  • Work with partners to meet the needs of people with disabilities and others with special needs.
* Examples of how the goals may be advanced illustrate the types of policies or initiatives that might be considered, and are not comprehensive.

Toolkit of Housing Options

The Toolkit of Housing Options pdf is a compilation of ideas to begin a community discussion on housing.

Preliminary Themes

These key ideas and strategic directions emerged from conversations with thousands of Boulder community members.

1. Preserve Existing Affordable Housing

The addition of new units cannot offset the loss of existing market-rate affordable units. The strategy should prioritize efforts to preserve the affordability of existing units, including units for seniors, lower as well as middle income families, and people with special needs.

Goals Supported

  • Strengthen Our Current Commitments
  • Maintain the Middle
  • Diverse Housing Choices
  • Strengthen Partnerships
  • Enable Aging in Place

Short List of Potential Tools / Strategies

  • Buy and Preserve Existing Units
  • Protect Mobile Home Parks
  • Allow One-for-One Replacement of Existing Affordable Units
  • Expand Low-Interest Home Rehabilitation Loans
  • Expand Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Options
  • Limit Short-term Rentals
  • Discourage Demolitions

From Theme to Strategic Direction…

There are three aspects of this theme:

  • Ensuring the long-term viability of existing permanently affordable units through continued maintenance and reinvestment;
  • Acting to bring market-rate units that are currently affordable into the city’s permanently affordable housing stock; and
  • Working to preserve the affordability of market-rate units without having to purchase and place deed restrictions on them.

The city and its partners are already active in the first two areas, and the strategy going forward should continue to place a priority on these tools, because they make financial sense. As an example, the city recently allocated $8.25 million in Affordable Housing Funds to assist in the acquisition and rehabilitation of 203 existing apartment units in southeast Boulder. Through this process, these units will become part of the city’s permanently affordable housing stock, at a cost of $40,640 per unit in city contributions, as compared to an average per unit subsidy over the past three years of $82,000 in new construction projects. These types of actions do not push the envelope in terms of innovation, but they are proven and cost effective. They should remain a key area of focus.

The more challenging area of action—and an area for innovative thinking—is in preserving the affordability of existing market-rate units without bringing them under deed restrictions. Tools for potential consideration would include actions to discourage the replacement of modest-sized and low-cost homes with larger and more expensive homes, such as protecting existing mobile home parks or discouraging demolitions. Financial tools such as home price buy-downs, rent vouchers and low-interest second mortgages can help bridge the gap between household income and home price or rent, but they do not help preserve the affordability of the actual unit. Development of new tools in this area could form the basis for a Middle Income Housing Program that builds on and extends the city’s successful efforts to support lower income households, with particular focus on middle income families.

2. Facilitate More Diverse Housing Options

The market tends to gravitate toward housing products that provide the best return on investment. At present, this includes large, expensive single family homes; market-rate student rental apartments; rental apartments targeted to middle and upper income professionals; and high-end senior housing. The city should use its regulatory tools and investments to facilitate a richer diversity of housing choices and affordability in new development and redevelopment.

Goals Supported

  • Strengthen Our Current Commitments
  • Maintain the Middle
  • Diverse Housing Choice
  • Strengthen Partnerships
  • Enable Aging in Place

Short List of Potential Tools / Strategies

  • Identify Appropriate Areas for Land Use and Zoning Changes (consider as part of the BVCP Update process; link potential changes to “value capture” provisions)
  • Provide Bonuses for Higher Affordability and Certain Housing Type s (allow developments that provide higher levels of affordability or desired housing types to receive an FAR or height bonus; consider limiting to certain areas, such as in areas well served by transit or areas that have undergone an area planning process)
  • Enable or Encourage Smaller Units (tiny homes, small homes, micro-units, etc.)
  • Encourage New Affordable Senior, Mixed Age Housing and Co-Housing
  • Encourage Universal (Accessible) Design in All New Housing
  • Utilize City and Partner Land Resources to Facilitate Desired Housing Outcomes
  • Use Affordable Housing Funds to Create Housing for People with Special Needs and Other Populations Not Being Served by the Market
  • Prioritize the Creation of Mixed Income Developments

From Theme to Strategic Direction…

There are two aspects of this theme:

  • Identifying areas in the city where the addition of new housing is possible and desirable, taking into account issues such as transit access, 15-minute neighborhood concepts, and impacts on existing neighborhoods; and
  • In areas where new housing development is anticipated or being planned for, ensuring that the zoning and other regulatory tools, potentially combined with city investment or incentives, will encourage or require the diversity of housing types desired.

The city has previously used this type of approach to facilitate desired housing outcomes. For example, in 2000 the BVCP update acknowledged the need for more student-oriented housing close to campus, and identified the 28th street frontage road as an area where such development could be accommodated. Zoning was developed and applied to properties along the street frontage, and transportation investments were made to create strong pedestrian and bike linkages to the main CU campus. Now, 15 years later, there are 400 units (1,015 beds) of new student-oriented housing either recently constructed or in the pipeline. Similarly, new zoning was developed to implement the community’s vision for the Transit Village (now called Boulder Junction), including a new zone district—RH-6—to facilitate the creation of townhomes, helping ensure a more diverse housing mix in the area. That zoning has resulted in the inclusion of 45 family-oriented townhomes as part of a current site review application for the area. There are other examples, too, of the city using area planning, site reviews, and annexation processes to achieve desired housing outcomes.

The general intent of this theme is that the city can use its land use authorities not only to identify areas where the addition of new housing may be appropriate or desired, but also to drive the creation of specific housing types that support the community’s vision for its future. While the tools need to be applied with care (ensuring that there is clear demand and financial feasibility with reasonable rates of return), it is an approach the city has used effectively in the past, and could be applied more broadly, particularly in response to concerns that the market is currently favoring some parts of market demand (e.g., for one- and two-bedroom rental apartments) and neglecting others (e.g., middle income housing for families and seniors). Further development of this as a strategy could consider potential combinations of tailored zoning rules, city investment (land or money), and related incentives or requirements to drive desired housing outcomes, prioritize the inclusion of affordable units “on site” in new market-rate developments, and the creation of diverse, high quality neighborhoods that help to serve middle income housing needs.

This can also include a review of the city’s existing zoning to ensure it supports the community’s vision. For example, in some medium- and high-density zone districts, requirements for open space, setbacks, and parking can often serve to encourage or even require the delivery of fewer large units rather than more small or modest-sized units, despite stated higher level policy intent. The city’s current exploration of form based code is a potential opportunity to consider how density is managed, particularly in areas where medium and high density is anticipated or desired.

3. Partner with Neighborhoods on Housing Solutions

Each part of the city is different. What may work as a strategy to support housing choice and affordability in one area, may not work in another area. The city should support processes that allow neighborhoods to develop appropriate responses to housing concerns and opportunities in a manner that advances and preserves housing affordability while being sensitive to neighborhood context and enhancing overall neighborhood quality and livability.

Goals Supported

  • Diverse Housing Choice
  • Maintain the Middle
  • Strengthen Partnerships
  • Enable Aging in Place

Short List of Potential Tools / Strategies

  • Partner with Neighborhoods to Define Area-specific Approaches to Housing Opportunities in Existing Neighborhoods (such as preservation of existing housing, accessory units, cooperative housing, and consideration of changes in occupancy regulations and enforcement)
  • Support Short-term Pilots in Interested Neighborhoods to Test Alternative Approaches
  • Revisit the Rules Related to the Sharing of Housing and Creation of Second Units (based on neighborhood input, consider potential changes on a neighborhood level or citywide related to accessory units, cooperative housing, and occupancy regulations, including improved enforcement)

From Theme to Strategic Direction

This theme incorporates ideas and concerns related to the utilization of existing housing (through models such as cooperative housing, or increased occupancy limits to allow more people to legally share the cost of renting or buying a home), as well as the potential for smaller scale “infill” housing in existing neighborhoods (through the addition of accessory units, or “in law” units).

The addition of a rental unit on an already-developed property, or the ability to split housing costs between more occupants, can contribute to affordability. These approaches have appeal in that they use the existing housing stock and land area more efficiently, integrating new housing opportunities, affordability and diversity into an existing neighborhood without significantly disrupting or changing existing neighborhood character. It is no secret that these housing models are already in practice in Boulder, sometimes with appropriate approvals and oftentimes without.

However, such approaches also raise significant concerns regarding neighborhood impacts, such as traffic, parking and noise. These concerns are particularly high in neighborhoods located close to the university campus, where issues of over-occupancy and illegal second units are already widespread.

Developing a more context-specific approach to shared housing and the creation of second units, with opportunities for considering and addressing neighborhood-specific concerns and opportunities, provides a path for testing different approaches to these promising but challenging ideas. Testing alternative approaches at the neighborhood scale could also help inform city-wide code changes and improved enforcement strategies. Creating a pilot program that allows interested neighborhoods to work with cooperative housing groups and others to develop and test ideas could be a promising step toward a more constructive conversation with meaningful outcomes.

4. Improve the Relationship Between Jobs and Housing

There are many factors that drive housing demand, and housing prices. Most of these are not under the control of local government. However, one area the city has control over, through its land use and zoning powers, is the amount of land dedicated to “jobs” and to “housing.” While regional growth will continue to affect prices in Boulder, creating a better balance between jobs and housing within the city can help mitigate this source of housing price pressure. Further, ensuring that non-residential development contributes to the community’s affordable housing efforts can help mitigate the impact of new jobs on housing affordability.

Goals Supported

  • Strengthen Our Current Commitments
  • Maintain the Middle
  • Diverse Housing Choice
  • Strengthen Partnerships

Short List of Potential Tools / Strategies

  • Identify Appropriate Areas for Land Use Designation and Zoning Changes (in particular changes from commercial to residential or mixed use)
  • Establish an Affordable Housing Linkage Fee for Non-Residential Development
  • Utilize City and Partner Land Resources to Facilitate Desired Housing Outcomes
  • Continue to Work with Key Partners to Provide Reliable, Convenient and Clean Regional Transportation Choices
  • Consider Establishing an Increased Local Minimum Wage

From Theme to Strategic Direction…

This theme acknowledges that job growth contributes to housing demand, and therefore is one of the factors that helps drive housing prices. It is, of course, not the only source of housing demand, particularly in a community like Boulder that is attractive to retirees, investors, and the self-employed, to name just a few market segments unrelated to job growth. Also, it is true that regional job growth will contribute to housing prices in Boulder, whether or not those jobs are located within the city limits. Further, it is as much the types of jobs (and salaries) that impact affordability as it is the overall number of jobs.

There is no magic balance between jobs and housing that will eliminate job growth as a factor in Boulder’s housing prices. Nor will it eliminate in-commuting and out-commuting. However, improving the balance between potential future job growth and potential future housing growth

(which is currently strongly weighted toward jobs) will help position Boulder for a more balanced future, and better achieve the community vision articulated in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan.

The city has, in the past, undertaken studies to understand this issue, and subsequently taken action to make changes in land use and zoning to reduce the overall potential for new non-residential development and increase the overall potential for new housing. Nonetheless, the potential for nonresidential development remains high in comparison to residential development (a situation that is common in cities around the country), and further steps could be taken to improve this balance. The upcoming BVCP Update provides an opportunity to look at this issue again, and determine appropriate steps, if any.

Additionally, establishing an affordable housing linkage fee on nonresidential development will help mitigate the impact of job-generating growth on affordable housing by establishing an additional funding stream to support affordable housing investments. Boulder took the first step toward such a linkage fee several years ago in relation to office development in the downtown area, and recently expanded the fee to apply to all non-residential development, citywide (making Boulder one of a handful of cities nationwide to do so, and the first in Colorado). The city is also engaged in a comprehensive review of its development-related fees, which will be looking at this issue more comprehensively and could potentially lead to an adjustment to the recently adopted linkage fee schedule.

5. Engage in Regional Planning and Action

Boulder exists within a high growth region, with adjacent communities experiencing some of the same pressures and challenges we face. Many households will choose to live outside of Boulder even if their job or school is in Boulder, and vice versa. While price is a key factor in such decisions, it is not the only one. A comprehensive approach to understanding and responding to our housing challenges and opportunities will require a regional view, and regional action, and coordinated planning for housing, jobs and transportation.

Goals Supported

  • Maintain the Middle
  • Diverse Housing Choice
  • Strengthen Partnerships
  • Enable Aging in Place

Short List of Potential Tools / Strategies

  • Continue to Work with Key Partners to Provide Reliable, Convenient and Clean Regional Transportation Choices
  • Ensure that Housing Policy Decisions Are Informed by Appropriate Analyses and Consideration of Regional Trends
  • Continue to Work with Local and Regional Partners to Address Issues Such as Homelessness and to Consider Regional Jobs-Housing Balance Issues (and relationship to transportation planning and investment)
  • Engage in State-Level Advocacy for Legislation that Improves Local Control over Housing Policy (e.g., rent control and ability to create mixed income developments, ability to protect mobile home parks, etc.)

From Theme to Strategic Direction…

This theme acknowledges that Boulder exists within a region, and that its housing and job markets extend beyond the city’s borders. This is particularly important given that the Front Range is currently one of the highest growth regions in the country. While the policies adopted and actions taken within the city are important, they cannot fundamentally change regional conditions and trends that will affect Boulder’s housing prices. Many people with high paying jobs in nearby communities will continue to choose to buy or rent in Boulder, affecting housing prices and rents within the city; just as the current construction of thousands of apartment units from Denver to Fort Collins will undoubtedly affect the price of apartments in Boulder over time.

Recognizing this regional context is important in two ways:

  • To make informed decisions about adopting appropriate policies and tools the city must monitor regional conditions and trends that could affect housing demand and market trends within the city; and
  • To inform appropriate regional advocacy and planning efforts that will support an economically diverse and vital region with appropriate high quality housing choices at a range of price points and convenient, safe and clean travel options.

Boulder faces the challenge of straddling two regional planning areas—on the one hand, Boulder is located in the northwestern part of the Denver Regional Council of Governments planning area, viewed as a residential suburb and secondary job center; yet Boulder is also a regional job center in its own right, with a commute shed that stretches from Fort Collins in the north to Denver in the south and Weld County in the east. For this latter planning area, there is no formalized regional planning mechanism. While the city partners effectively with the county and adjacent communities to address transportation planning and issues such as homelessness, the ability to consider housing market issues and land use/transportation planning within this regional sphere requires greater attention.

6. Partner to Address Challenges and Expand Options

The city does not develop housing. Private and nonprofit developers, institutions such as the University of Colorado, and individual property owners create and preserve housing, guided by the city’s policies, regulations and investments. Having strong partnerships, and alignment around desired outcomes, is key to long-term success in responding to our challenges and ensuring diverse housing choices. While the city has partnered effectively in the past to achieve desired outcomes, it may need to consider expanding those partnerships and undertaking new forms of partnership to achieve community goals into the future.

Goals Supported

  • Strengthen Our Current Commitments
  • Maintain the Middle
  • Diverse Housing Choice
  • Strengthen Partnerships
  • Enable Aging in Place

Short List of Potential Tools / Strategies

  • Utilize City and Partner Land Resources to Facilitate Desired Housing Outcomes
  • Work Closely with CU to Anticipate Future Housing Needs and Create High Quality Student and Work Force Housing in Close Proximity to Campus
  • Consider Fee Reductions, Expedited Review Processes, and/or Modified Standards for Permanently Affordable Housing
  • Support the Creation of Permanent Housing Options with Supportive Services for the Chronically Homeless
  • Work with the County and Others to Address Senior Housing Issues, such as Tax Issues and Availability of a “One Stop Shop” for Senior Housing Opportunities and Supportive Programs

From Theme to Strategic Direction…

This theme focuses more on the “how” of responding to Boulder’s housing challenges than on the “what.” It recognizes that the city’s ability to affect housing outcomes is limited. While the city helps to establish “the rules” by which housing is both preserved and developed, and is able to invest in the creation of desired housing, it does not build, preserve or manage housing on its own. It relies heavily on partnerships to achieve community housing goals.

Boulder has developed effective partnerships to achieve desired housing outcomes in the past.

These include work with nonprofit housing developers such as Boulder Housing Partners and Thistle Communities; partnerships with Boulder County and other service agencies focused on serving special needs populations, and partnerships with the University of Colorado to identify and respond to student housing needs. The city has also engaged with private for-profit developers to facilitate the creation of permanently affordable units within market-rate developments (through voluntary agreements) as well as with local nonprofits such as Trinity Lutheran Church and Bridge House.

Looking to the future, partnerships will continue to be central to the city’s ability to meet community housing goals, with the potential need for new forms of partnership as well as potential new funding models. This may include facilitating new neighborhood-level partnerships (as described in Theme 3 of this document); new regional partnerships (as described in Theme 5 of this document); and enhanced partnership with the University of Colorado and other large employers to address workforce housing issues. It will also be important to explore new forms of public-private partnership to create high quality mixed-income, mixed use developments that integrate housing for middle income families, seniors and others that might not otherwise be served by the market, but who are critical to creating a diverse, inclusive and sustainable city.