To develop a comprehensive and flexible plan, the Partnership worked closely with participating jurisdictions and other partners throughout the region. This case study details how the regional housing plan was developed, how the participating jurisdictions work together to achieve shared goals, and what the effort had accomplished as of the end of 2020.
- Boulder County’s regional effort has created new opportunities for knowledge-sharing. Staff across jurisdictions provide peer support, share technical assistance, and collaborate on best practices when adopting new tools and policies. The Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership also hosts a website and social media channels to engage the public and elected officials in housing affordability issues.
- Regional housing plans make it possible for different jurisdictions to pool their resources to address the most pressing regional needs and for staff across jurisdictions to share information and learn from one another. However, larger jurisdictions will likely need to contribute more financial resources and staff time than smaller jurisdictions to the effort. Smaller jurisdictions may contribute in other ways; in Boulder County, some of the smaller jurisdictions contribute land for affordable housing development.
- Regional plans require buy-in from multiple jurisdictions, which may have different housing needs and resources. Localities interested in developing regional housing plans should consider providing a diverse range of options for achieving shared goals, so that jurisdictions have the flexibility to adopt strategies that are best suited to their distinct circumstances.
Boulder County is located in northern Colorado with a total population of 326,196. Boulder County contains a mix of urban and rural jurisdictions. The largest city, Boulder, has over 45,000 affordable homes, while the smallest village, Ward, has only 100 affordable homes. Jurisdictions across Boulder County are facing shared challenges: a growing number of cost-burdened households, low vacancy rates, and an aging population. Land constraints are driving up housing costs up by preventing jurisdictions from building out. The increase in housing prices in the region’s main employment centers, Boulder and Longmont, has led households to seek less expensive housing in outlying smaller jurisdictions, leading to greater housing demand and longer commutes for many workers.
Within this context, the regional housing plan, Expanding Access to Diverse Housing for Our Community, emerged as a commitment among ten jurisdictions in Boulder County to work toward common housing goals. The five strategy areas recommended in the regional plan are intentionally broad to provide a functional framework for all jurisdictions regardless of size or resources. The strategies are:
- Establish a regional goal – The plan establishes a goal that 12 percent of rental and ownership housing across the region be permanently affordable for low-, moderate-, and middle-income households by 2035 (the affordability goal is for the region as a whole but many of the jurisdictions have set the same goal for themselves). To achieve this goal, jurisdictions will need to collectively produce 8,000 new units over the next fifteen years through a mix of new construction and acquisition.
- Bolster financial resources for affordable housing – The plan aims to increase local investment by $10 million per year. The plan highlights a range of potential funding mechanisms, including ballot initiatives, sales and property taxes, and linkage fees.
- Secure land for development – The plan encourages jurisdictions to secure publicly owned land for affordable housing and seek opportunities to re-zone business and commercial sites for residential uses.
- Preserve affordability – The regional plan includes a variety of strategies that jurisdictions can implement to preserve existing affordable housing units and acquire new units to convert to affordable housing.
- Consider regulatory processes – The plan highlights regulatory changes that can support affordable housing development, like inclusionary zoning and expedited review processes.
The plan’s development was spearheaded by the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership, a working group of the three largest jurisdictions in the region (Boulder County, City of Boulder, and City of Longmont). The Partnership worked closely with other jurisdictions to establish a flexible, comprehensive plan to address affordability challenges throughout the region. Since the plan was launched in 2017, the Partnership has turned its focus towards building staff capacity and supporting implementation. Partnership staff has offered expert guidance and technical assistance to participating jurisdictions as they determine the best strategies for their local needs. The Partnership has also established working groups for planners and developers across the region to share insights. They have also developed a website, Home Wanted, which promotes the plan and serves as a resource for community members to share news, events, and tools for advocacy.
Process and timeline
Jurisdictions in the region have a long track record of working together to coordinate services and share knowledge about housing. The regional plan builds on these successful collaborations, bringing in new partners, and creating a mechanism for sharing resources and staff.
The Boulder County Consortium of Cities is a longstanding coalition of elected officials from every city and town in Boulder County. The Consortium collaborates on a range of regional issues including transportation, public lands, and waste management. In 2016, the Consortium formed the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership to help address the area’s escalating housing costs. The Partnership is primarily staffed by employees of the cities of Boulder and Longmont and Boulder County, as well as representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and public housing authorities. The city of Boulder, the city of Longmont, and Boulder County established an inter-governmental agreement to commit staff time and resources towards supporting the Partnership’s activities. However, a central goal of the Partnership was to engage all Boulder County jurisdictions, as well as other community partners, in the development of the regional plan.
Through October 2017, the Partnership worked to build relationships with local officials and community members from throughout the region and presented the draft regional housing plan to over 40 organizations, including government entities, nonprofits, developers, and neighborhood groups. In September 2017, the Partnership hosted a Housing Summit with elected officials and their planning staff from nine jurisdictions. The goals of the summit were to ensure all jurisdictions engaged in the planning process, obtain support for the regional housing goal and related strategies, and consider how aa regional housing plan could be resourced. This was followed by a public comment period to garner additional feedback from community members.
November 2017–January 2020
The Partnership worked with participating jurisdictions to review the input gathered during the summit and public comment period and incorporate this feedback into a final regional housing plan. The plan was released in December 2017. Most jurisdictions in the region agreed to support the plan immediately, committing to implementing local strategies to help achieve the 12 percent regional goal. The Partnership has also hosted and participated in events and workshops to engage planners, elected officials, and community members in affordable housing issues.
January 2020–March 2021
The implementation of the plan began in earnest in 2020. Jurisdictions began formalizing changes to their regulatory processes and increasing construction and acquisition of affordable housing. The Partnership continues to meet with planning and developer groups, jurisdictional partners, service providers, and representatives from the Consortium of Cities to discuss policy changes that would further Boulder County’s affordable housing goals. As of August 2020, all ten jurisdictions in the region have endorsed the plan.
In early 2020, the partnership also launched a new website, Home Wanted, to encourage Boulder County residents to learn about the region’s affordable housing needs. The website serves as a platform for housing-related advocacy in the region, and includes regular updates on events, forums, and new housing programs and services. Visitors can access tools and templates, like policy briefs and signs, to help them advocate for additional affordable housing investments. Shortly after launching the website, the Partnership launched a social media campaign “Home Together,” encouraging residents of Boulder County to use art to show what home means to them. The contest was a means of drawing traffic to the website where resources for assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic are available by jurisdiction.
While public implementation is in the early stages, the long-term agreement to address affordable housing as a region between all Boulder County jurisdictions is a significant outcome itself. Ten jurisdictions in the region have endorsed the plan, agreeing to implement local strategies to increase their stock of affordable housing to contribute to the regional goal of 12 percent affordable housing by 2035.
The regional effort has also led to stronger working relationships and knowledge-sharing between participating jurisdictions. Staff from the Partnership regularly attend city council meetings and planning meetings throughout the region to provide support and guidance as jurisdictions begin implementing these changes. There are cross-jurisdictional working groups for planners and developers to share insights about housing policy tools. According to a staff member from Boulder County, these relationships have made it easier for jurisdictions to coordinate on housing challenges that fall outside of the scope of the plan, such as landlord engagement and eviction mediation.
Two jurisdictions have taken recent steps to address affordability consistent with the strategies laid out in the Regional Housing Plan. The new construction of a development in Longmont is slated to be completed by spring 2022 with 73 new permanently affordable units. The town of Superior has passed a new Inclusionary Housing Ordinance that requires all residential developments with 10 or more units to set aside at least 15% of units to be affordable to households earning below 80% AMI. The Partnership’s advocacy efforts may also be having an impact on statewide housing policy: in 2019, the Colorado legislature passed a series of bills that are expected to increase investment in affordable housing by $1 billion statewide.
The Regional Housing Plan is significant for taking a voluntary regional approach to addressing affordability challenges in a county with jurisdictions varying widely in size, resources, and capacity. It is notable because all jurisdictions in the region have agreed to the goal of 12 percent affordable housing by 2035 and will work together to increase local funding for affordable housing. The Home Wanted website, and related communications activities, provides a platform for raising public awareness about housing affordability issues and building broad support for increased housing investment.
Boulder County jurisdictions collectively decided to create and implement regional solutions to these problems because housing costs are a regional issue. This regional approach allows jurisdictions to share resources more readily and address common challenges. Some cities, like Longmont and Boulder, have resources that smaller jurisdictions can benefit from. At the same time, the participation of smaller jurisdictions ensures that affordable housing is distributed throughout the region and not only concentrated in larger cities and helps build broader support for additional state investments in housing. The process of creating a regional plan and creating a partnership to facilitate its implementation also creates a county-wide infrastructure to more efficiently move resources where they can have the greatest impact. For example, according to a staff member from Boulder County, the Partnership hopes to eventually stand up county-wide pilot programs where development funds can be directed towards different localities to take advantage of lower land costs or other opportunities for development.
The regional housing plan recognizes that jurisdictions already have policies and practices in place that support affordable housing. The Partnership provides technical assistance, using lessons from jurisdictions that have already implemented certain strategies, to help other jurisdictions adopt policies that make sense for their circumstances. The Partnership also supports a communications campaign designed to build public support for affordable homes.
- Home Wanted: This website, hosted by the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership, contains more details about the regional housing plan and publishes news and events related to the plan.
- Expanding Access to Diverse Housing for Our Community: The final version of the regional housing plan, including potential strategies for achieving the 12% regional goal and details on current affordable housing stock in the region.
- Affordable Housing Summit Report: In September 2017, the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership hosted a study session with representatives from jurisdictions across Boulder County to review the draft regional housing plan. This report summarizes the input received during this session, which was incorporated into the final plan.
- The case study includes information provided by Mackenzie Sehlke, Public Affairs Specialist for Home Wanted, in a discussion held on February 10, 2021.