In recent decades Boulder has made progress on providing more low income housing options, but middle-income workers and residents still can’t afford to buy homes in the city. As KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, Boulder City Council discussed a potential pilot program last night that would help middle-income households get closer to owning a home.
Boulder is ranked consistently one of the top 10 best cities to live in America; it’s also one of the healthiest cities – best cities for biking – and of course best for hiking and in 2017 one organization named it the happiest city in all the United States. Those accolades encourage people to move here, many so wealthy they have priced-out the middle class. A recent community survey showed that Boulderites gave the economy, education, transportation and natural environment a 90 percent rating. Compare that to eight percent who rated affordable quality housing as excellent or good. All that has prompted City Council to consider a city-backed pilot program that could help middle-income people buy a home here. Jay Sugnet is with the city’s Housing and Human Services department.
“We all know we’re doing quite well with low and moderate households, but it’s really the middle that’s getting priced-out of the housing market because housing prices have been escalating far faster than incomes,” said Sugnet.
Since 2000, Boulder has increased its affordable housing from approximately three to seven percent. At the same time, regular housing prices rose 31 percent between 2015 and 2016. Last year, Councilmembers Sam Weaver and Bob Yates drafted a “white paper” to explore the idea of a down-payment assistance program that would help more middle-income families buy a house. Sugnet says similar programs are being tried elsewhere.
“Boulder is not alone with this, a lot of high-cost communities in the northeast, California and mountain communities are trying no-interest or low-interest,” said Sugnet.
Sugnet says those applying for help from the city would need to meet income and asset restrictions, have good credit and make sure the home qualifies for the program. The ultimate goal is to help middle-income families get a foothold in the housing market. In exchange, the city would keep the properties deed-restricted to be permanently affordable. All Councilmembers agreed they want to pursue the pilot program and instructed staff to return with more information on who would qualify, what homes will qualify and what appreciation rate would attract homebuyers and still remain affordable. Given that the median listing price for a house in Boulder is now upwards of $850,000, councilmember Sam Weaver was concerned that a pilot program get off on the right foot.
“We don’t want people buying a luxury townhouse through this program,” said Weaver. “So I would like to see that the homes have be the median price or less. The reason I think it’s important to say that is because when we talk to the public they need to know we are not subsidizing luxury housing, we’re subsidizing middle-income.”
There are still many challenges before a program to help Boulder’s middle-income residents afford housing debuts, but staff is scheduled to return with more information later this summer.