Our staff reached out to all of the current Boulder city council candidates with questions to get an understanding of where they stand on rental housing issues. This year there are 10 candidates vying for 5 seats with only 1 incumbent running. Check out their written answers to four questions we posed to them below.
MARK WALLACH: Despite having served on the Board of Boulder Housing Partners for a year, and having a great interest in the creation of affordable housing, I am really not sure how to answer this question. City Council has little to do with the market forces creating upward pressure on costs in the housing market, and the City does not even control the assessment process for real estate taxes (of which the City receives approximately 14 cents on the dollar). Federally subsidized housing, such as housing created through the LIHTC programs is subject to its own set of rules, with respect to which the City and Council plays no role. As far as addressing affordable housing generally, I believe that creating housing through the private sector requires the creation of 70-75 percent market rate housing in order to achieve 25-30 percent affordable units, which I believe to ultimately be unsustainable in terms of creating a substantial number of affordable units. I am a believer in direct government intervention in order to address affordability, which is why I advocate for decommissioning the 179 acres of our municipal airport, which is for 125 hobbyists, and could yield 2,500 – 3,500 units of primarily affordable and middle income units. I believe that this is an idea whose time is coming (San Jose has voted to terminate its airport, and I believe Broomfield is taking a hard look at theirs), and I hope to pursue it if I am granted a second term on Council.
MICHAEL CHRISTY: Boulder needs to provide more incentives and programs for affordable housing for low, moderate, and middle-income households to address the housing-affordability challenges we currently face. One way to address this challenge is through Boulder’s voter-approved down-payment assistance program and its capacity to create and maximize additional deed-restricted permanently affordable housing units. This is an excellent tool and step in the right direction as an entry way for people to attain home ownership in Boulder. While deed-restricted permanently affordable housing may not provide for the type of generational wealth typically associated with home ownership, it allows entry and access to Boulder’s schools, open spaces, vibrant communities, etc.
The city should also explore re-zoning as a tool to address our housing affordability crisis. We should be looking at in-fill and rezoning options in underutilized commercial areas to create the development of more neighborhoods like Holiday – high density, but scaled with neighborhood-serving retail, restaurants, and other services and close to reliable transportation modes which in turn will help reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
The East Boulder Sub-Community Plan and Diagonal Plaza are other prime example of how our city can transform and reinvigorate neighborhoods and provide a variety of affordable housing options for low, moderate, and middle-income households that would be appealing and financially attainable at all stages of life. The city should also put “cash-in-lieu” money to work in every place we can as soon as we can to assist with providing affordable housing for lower-income households. The city should be collaborating with Boulder Housing Partners and looking at purchasing existing market-rate affordable apartment buildings that are older/run down and then rehabilitate them and make them permanently affordable (example – Nest Development on Thunderbird).
TARA WINER: Everyone says they want Affordable Housing, but few think about those whose work output (landlords and property managers) directly or indirectly pays for it. When this segment of the economy confronts the rising costs of state regulatory compliance and increasing property taxes they must absorb these extra expenses. Pre-Covid our national labor force was near capacity and, despite the widespread unemployment associated with Covid and the robust recovery, the local labor shortage has not significantly improved. This has acutely affected staffing in this sector. Furthermore, though in my opinion the Covid eviction protections were the right thing to do, this has further stressed the financial equation. I share the sentiments of Boulder’s City Manager who during the 2021 Budget discussion thanked property owners for the help they gave to tenants during COVID. She said: “It’s important to understand the important role landlords and property managers have played in helping so many people from eviction.” I also understand the financial sacrifice that many property owners incurred who agreed to work with tenants to address late rent and other challenges associated with Covid.
I find the recent economic news places our situation in Boulder in a much more optimistic frame: 1] unemployment is down, consumer spending is up, financing continues at historic low rates, and Federal fiscal policy will help in the area of rental assistance and eviction prevention via ARPA funding. I applaud the help we are giving tenants in need, but more can be done to aid smaller landlords and non-profits who have helped so many.
MATTHEW BENJAMIN: Our climate crisis demands that we leave no stone unturned and we bring all sectors of our community and economy to fight this generational challenge. This is where I would like the city to provide incentives to landlords that invest above and beyond in climate resiliency and efficiencies for their properties. In return the City would offer a break and/or rebate for landlords that invest in our community’s commitment to reducing our climate impacts. This will also reduce the utility cost for these properties saving money in the long run.
NICOLE SPEER: Affordable housing must be equitably distributed across our city, and the burden should not fall to private landlords and property managers or any single neighborhood. I support incremental expansion of options for more affordable housing and gentle infill. Projects such as the CU South annexation, which includes 1,100 units for CU faculty, staff, and students as well as five acres for affordable housing for Boulder residents, will help. I would like to see our city speed up and streamline the permitting process for new housing and infill development (including ADUs), especially for projects with considerable proportions of affordable units. Other communities have explored efforts such as land trusts, municipal bonds, and relaxing zoning limits and I am curious as to whether and how these options might work for our city given how quickly housing costs have risen in the past decade.
Ultimately, to figure out how to address such a challenging issue as affordable housing, our city’s staff — in partnership with stakeholders such as landlords, low- and middle-income residents, employers, and property managers — are going to come up with the solutions. The role of city council is to frame the vision and goal on issues such as affordable housing and then empower city staff to work with stakeholders to identify options that will work for Boulder. Council should avoid giving specific recommendations on how to solve problems. As a governing board, it is important for city council members to focus on what goals we are trying to achieve, and why it is important we achieve those goals. We cannot solve problems as complex as affordable housing without involving the voices of the people and businesses most affected by this issue.
LAUREN FOLKERTS: We have to recognize that well intentioned and important regulations have a much larger impact on landlords and property managers of small and mid sized rental properties. I think there are three areas where careful attention would lead to better outcomes. First, we should carefully examine existing regulations to make sure they are creating the outcomes we want for small and mid sized rentals. Energy requirements for renewing landlords and lighting ordinances are examples of where we need to have clear, cost effective solutions that are ready for our community to implement. We need to hand solutions to our landlords, not more red tape. Second, as new regulations are proposed we need to identify and mitigate impacts on nonprofits and small landlords to ensure they are able to continue providing affordable housing options for our community. Finally, we also need to look at how we can adjust building and zoning regulations to incentivise
the creation of more small-scale locally owned rental opportunities. This should be part of how we encourage missing middle housing and gentle infill, such as townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, and co-housing. We need to make sure these small increases in density spread throughout the city and focus on transportation hubs. In general Boulder’s regulations fail to differentiate between small and large scale housing providers. Their community impacts are quite different and this should be recognized in the rules that regulate them.
DANIEL WILLIAMS: Boulder currently requires 25% affordable housing for new residential construction and that should continue. We can significantly expand market-rate affordable housing in Boulder with tools like revamping our development processes to make it easier and quicker for projects to be approved, which reduces costs of development and ultimately makes it less expensive for the residents of such projects. Similarly, we can eliminate well-intentioned but out-of-date rules written before we recognized the climate emergency that make it more expensive to build the type of multi-family units that would be attractive to in-commuters, young people, and new families, such as parking minimums and other requirements. Those types of changes alter the equations for building market-rate housing that is affordable to in-commuters and others.
STEVE ROSENBLUM: As an economist and a housing professional, I’m trained to identify the unintended consequences of policies and regulations. General price inflation has contributed to the increased costs faced by landlords and property managers, but local policies have also played a role. SmartRegs, NEWR, the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, and the more stringent building energy codes passed in July 2020 promote important community goals, but we must acknowledge that they drive up costs and make Boulder less affordable. We must ensure our regulations and permitting processes are well-designed, efficient, effective, and provide a net benefit to the community, which includes taking into consideration the second order effects on housing supply and housing costs.
Boulder’s housing stock increased by 6.5% since 2010 while vacancies doubled from 2.2% to 5.9%, which is the highest in Boulder County. We have built nearly 3,000 additional housing units over the past decade, but increased vacancy rates combined with rising prices means we need to now focus on inputs cost and unit mix type to ensure our housing supply matches community needs.
Subsidized housing also has an important role to play in providing housing across the income spectrum. Boulder Housing Partners has been able to leverage Federal dollars to create a portfolio of 6,500 well-managed, permanently affordable housing units for people making less than 60% of the Area Median Income. They have seven additional projects in the pipeline. Yet, for folks whose incomes are too high to qualify for subsidized housing, who struggle to navigate the income certification process, and can’t afford a single family home, we need a better solution. Many of these families can afford the city’s high rents, but they cannot find a residence to buy or rent that meets their needs. This is a complex challenge that requires thoughtful analysis and creative solutions, but there is a path forward. I will look at all options, from zoning to land use to our regulatory framework, that will encourage the creation and preservation of diverse, attainable, attractive housing options that meet the needs of the community.
Finally, we need to recognize the impact on our housing market of the 40% growth in the CU student population since 2000 and encourage CU to house more of their students.
DAVID TAKAHASHI: First of all, the supply chain has been causing some incredible shortages and price spikes. I believe that we need to investigate the use of alternate materials which have higher energy efficiencies such Structural Insulated panels. There are other sustainable materials such as straw bale construction. The idea is abandon conventional building methods in favor of sustainable energy efficient ones.
Along these lines, there is the idea that green energy efficient homes should have lower energy bills, and lower energy bills mean spending less on utilities which by all rights, should get you a better loan since your risk is lowered through better cash flow. Along these lines I am very much interested in greening the MLS, and making energy efficiency and solar actually have resale value.
It used to be that green building had a premium, but builders are reporting the learning curve, the economies of scope and scale, and experience are leveling the cost differential. So going carbon neutral even on existing homes is paying off sooner.
JACQUES DECALO: The cost of sustainable energy and the tools associated accumulate for a lower cost over a long period of time and short period. Building high density duplex and triplex net positive housing in ways. Exploring new building techniques. We need to take control of who owns the rental units or land that the houses are built on. The city can not allow large companies to come in and buy out areas to increase price and profit.
MARK WALLACH: I have been a participant, along with my colleague Rachel Friend, on the committee tasked with analyzing conditions on the Hill and addressing them. Frankly, after the last meeting we were dissatisfied with the pace of the conversation, and requested that the group stand up a subcommittee to formulate concrete solutions in the form of potential ordinances to address some of these problems. Both of us will be participants on that subcommittee, and look forward to actually bringing proposed suggestions to the Council. Obviously, it would be our intent to obtain the feedback from concerned stakeholders such as BARHA, the University, students and Hill residents and businesses with respect to any such proposals, but it was our mutual feeling that after 30 years of problems with little to show in the way of results, it is time to be more proactive and actually bring to Council some concrete legislative proposals. We do not need more process at this point, we need more actions.
MICHAEL CHRISTY: The Hill Revitalization Working Group (HRWG), which formed in 2015, is a step in the right direction, but we need more direct community outreach and engagement with all stakeholders, i.e., a collaboration of landlords, tenants, students, homeowners, business owners, CU representative(s), and city staff. The university must play a vital role in helping to address these challenges. Specifically, the university needs to do more in holding students accountable for nuisances they cause within the neighborhoods surrounding the university. It is my understanding that the HRWG created a subcommittee tasked with coming up with concrete proposals to address conditions on the Hill and which can also be applied to other surrounding neighborhoods. I am hopeful that the subcommittee will present viable options that can be efficiently and effectively implemented to improving the quality of life in these neighborhoods, which should include proposals for holding all stakeholders more accountable.
TARA WINER: The Hill has somehow managed to balance student and neighborhood housing creating a beautiful landscape with historic homes that is a great place for everyone. A challenge going forward is to maintain the peace and harmony that for the past few decades has characterized the Hill. Some top-line ideas:
MATT BENJAMIN: I lived on the Hill for three years while I was in college. I know the potential and have seen the neglect for close to 20 years. The most important thing we can do is invest in the Hill and not let neglect it. With the Hill hotel and CU Conference center about to start development, there is a tremendous opportunity to bring economic vitality and vibrancy to the Hill. If the Hill is busy year-round with a diverse population of people, there will be little opportunity for students to resort to the kinds of behaviors we saw earlier this year. Specifically, I would like to see a street closure much like we see downtown along 13th street between Pennsylvania and College. This walkable environment with outdoor dining and no cars will attract people from beyond the Hill to help rejuvenate this beloved area.
NICOLE SPEER: As a long-time CU employee who has worked with many exceptional university students, I know that the students who engaged in the riot represent a minority of the tens of thousands of motivated, mature, committed students at CU. And, this minority’s actions had a significant impact on the wellbeing of our community and especially those living on the Hill ( including their fellow students, the majority of whom did not participate in this riot).
I would like to see more accountability from CU for destructive and disruptive student behaviors. Students who act irresponsibly and without consequence off-campus are the same students who act irresponsibly and without consequence on campus. Many of my colleagues are frustrated by the behaviors this minority of students is allowed to get away with on campus. CU ought to take more responsibility for the students they choose to admit, and hold students accountable when they act in a way that is contrary to CU’s values, particularly during a pandemic.
I would also like to see CU find ways to integrate its students into our broader community, such as offering more multi-generational housing. Mixing younger and older students with faculty and staff housing as I believe CU intends to do at the CU South campus would be a good way to foster connections between younger students, families, and older members of the community. In talking with some of my faculty colleagues after the riots, they would like to see CU require every student to complete service to the community as a graduation requirement to help students feel more connected to the Boulder community.
LAUREN FOLKERTS: We need to continue to formalize and strengthen the relationship between the City, the University, and both long and short term residents of the Hill. The Hill Revitalization Working Group is a good start but it should be expanded and empowered to take action. In most college towns you would see consistent communication between the University and City staff of all equivalent departments. We need to address the larger issue of both short and long term collaborative planning. CU continues to grow, and while it houses a higher percentage of students onsite than many state universities, it’s clear that off-campus housing is causing conflicts. Quality of life on The Hill is something we need to address, as is the steadily growing number of students commuting in from outside city limits, and subsequent traffic and environmental impacts. By continuing to encourage and support BARHA and Hill Revitalization Working Group to take action we can successfully create a quality of life in neighborhoods surrounding the university.
DANIEL WILLIAMS: It is good to hear that BARHA, the university, community members, and the City came together to help create solutions after the riots. Those are the right players for the discussion, and I think the right next step would be to present these solutions to the public in an open meeting. I would like the benefit of the thinking of this group of stakeholders as we develop solutions to improve the quality of life on the Hill for all residents. That said, the University punishing students who engaged in violent behavior is critical to prevent a repeat of last spring’s riot, and we should look for opportunities to create more dialogue between renters and homeowners on the Hill.
STEVE ROSENBLUM: This is partially a housing issue and partially an issue of CU’s responsibility for the conduct of its students. Boulder’s housing market is unique due to the number of students renting in residential neighborhoods. As noted in my response to the previous question, we need to assure that homes for individuals and families are available and affordable for those whose income disqualifies them from affordable housing programs. We also need to prevail upon CU to house more of their students.
Certain neighborhoods have felt a disproportionate impact of both student demand for rental housing and the frictions of demographics with different schedules and different expectations, living in close proximity. These tensions were exacerbated by the stress placed upon the community by the pandemic and necessary public health measures, as well as decreased enforcement due to losing 42 police officers, out of a force size of 184. According to a briefing given by Police Chief Herold to council, a small number of properties where students live generate a disproportionate number of complaints and calls for service, presenting an undue burden to the police and neighbors. This came to a head during the Hill riots last spring. I am told that not a single student received academic discipline, suspension, or expulsion as a consequence of this terrible incident. Council should work via Hill Revitalization Working Group to encourage CU to enact policies which extend their residential “code of conduct” to include off-campus housing to ensure their students are good neighbors. Students are both representatives of the university and members of the community. They should be allowed to enjoy their college experience, but their commitment to personal responsibility should not end when they leave the classroom.
DAVID TAKAHASHI: I have done Restorative Justice with CU Boulder, trying to keep over-zealous party hosts out of the justice system. What you learn in Restorative Justice (RJ) is that if you treat your neighbors with some respect, a lot of the divisiveness begins to melt. I have advised kids to get to know their neighbors, shovel their walks if they are old, look out for them, warn them things may get loud but you are trying to respect their peace of mind. This can go far. So I think simple consideration, a genuine wish to integrate into the neighborhood, and deep respect go a long way. And when it fails I would suggest BARHA keep trained RJ mediators available to work things out to everyone’s satisfaction.
JACQUES DECALO: I feel that the riots are a reflection of the the University and not the city. We need to work with the university to find solutions that help mediate a safe space for our community but also allow for a full college lifestyle of the students. High density housing is an issue that the city needs to resolve, but is also an issue forced upon by the University. The University needs to do more to provide housing for students.
MARK WALLACH: I do know that many landlords have gone to lengths to work with tenants, and were doing so even before the institution of eviction moratoriums due to Covid. I am not sure that it is widely understood how little it is in the interest of landlords to actually evict tenants and start over, incurring additional periods of vacancy, and other costs associated with the process of obtaining a new tenant. We have a number of rental assistance programs, and while those programs are intended to protect tenants from eviction, they are equally valuable to protect landlords from the costs resulting from those evictions. At least with respect to the rental assistance program passed last year, landlords are ultimately paying for this program and they should be regarded as collateral beneficiaries, even though the funds are actually granted to the tenant. With respect to uncooperative tenants, if the source of the difficulty is lack of facility with English, that suggests a different approach than someone who is simply blowing off obligations to the landlord. I have little sympathy for the latter. The moratoriums have served an important purpose in keeping people housed during an extraordinary set of circumstances, but they cannot last indefinitely, particularly in a period when jobs are so readily available, and should not be a shield for those who simply want to avoid their obligations.
MICHAEL CHRISTY: From a legal perspective, the United States Supreme Court on August 26, 2021, rejected the Biden Administration’s latest moratorium on evictions. This decision causes an increased risk for tenants who may lose their homes, while the Administration tries to speed the flow of billions of dollars in federal funding to tenants who are behind in rent because of the pandemic. It is believed this is the result of bureaucratic delays at the state and local level. As of the end of July there was only $5.1 billion of the $46.5 billion in aid released. We must be doing more to break the bottleneck at the state and local level.
The city should also be looking at the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which provides federal funding for state and local rental assistance programs. The ERAP funding is close to $22 billion to assist tenants who are struggling to pay rent and utilities resulting from the COVID pandemic. Taken together with the prior $25 billion in rental assistance already provided for through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, (CAA), these funds are a significant step in helping tenants/families who are experiencing housing instability and in addition to assisting the rental property owners who are suffering from economic distress due to unpaid rents during the pandemic. This is a very difficult scenario to navigate. We do not want tenants losing their homes, but at the same time, if tenants are not able to pay rent, it creates a hardship for landlords who have a legal obligation to pay their lenders and they too need protection and assistance.
At the local level, another way to assist landlords and tenants in this situation, assuming they receive no immediate financial assistance, is to have them seek the assistance of Boulder’s Community Mediation and Resolution Center (CMRC). I volunteer with CMCR and am able to use my skill-set as a certified mediator to help landlords and tenants come to reasonable solutions that generally result in the tenants continuing occupancy and guaranteed, albeit, deferred rental payments to landlords.
TARA WINER: The city must maximize its efforts to publicize its own and ARPA fund rental assistance to tenants and to aid their application process. For mortgaged rental properties, I would like the city to explore the creation of a program to help lessen the fiscal stress between lenders and landlords. Specifically, it may help landlords in their negotiations with lenders to interpose such a non-conflict-of-interest third party. Furthermore the city becomes an interested party because it is to their advantage to prevent long-term homelessness in Boulder.
MATT BENJAMIN: EFAA here in Boulder has been doing a good job with rental assistance and I hope they can continue to do so. The eviction moratorium has been a key tool in preventing more people from falling deeper into poverty or being homeless. I think the city should consider some forms of rental assistance as we continue to battle the impacts of COVID.
NICOLE SPEER: I appreciate the work many in our community have been doing to keep people housed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium will be ending soon and I am most concerned with impending eviction filings. I would like to see Boulder find options to create more opportunities, or take advantage of existing opportunities, for rental assistance from city, state, and federal sources to help people make up for missing rent and stay housed (e.g., through American Rescue Plan funds). Landlords and property managers are not exempt from experiencing financial hardship when tenants are unable to pay their rent. Rental assistance helps everyone.
In the longer term, I am concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout are the tip of the iceberg. The climate emergency is not only increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events that will impact properties and people’s homes and businesses (and increase the costs of property insurance), it is also increasing the likelihood of additional pandemics and other events that will disrupt our economy in the future. It is important to focus not just on addressing our current crisis but also to plan to better manage the next crisis. I do not have the answers as to what we can do to be better prepared the next time a pandemic or other unprecedented event has such massive impacts on people’s ability to pay rent and stay housed, but it is essential we pursue those answers.
LAUREN FOLKERTS: COVID has been tough on all of us. Renters and landlords each face different, but still difficult situations. There is no one right answer for those facing these challenging circumstances. Fortunately, there are resources that exist in our community to assist both parties involved. My first recommendation would be for the landlord to help by starting the process of applying to state and county rental assistance programs. Then they should provide information regarding this program and county mediation programs, so that tenants know they have options. Communication is critical in these circumstances and putting in the extra effort by helping offer options can facilitate the start of a conversation. Landlords can also independently apply for mortgage assistance. The city needs to help by advocating on behalf of landlords and tenants to make sure funds from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program are promptly allocated from both state and county.
DANIEL WILLIAMS: Connecting tenants with resources and services would help both tenants and landlords meet their respective financial needs. The City could help by providing materials landlords can provide to tenants regarding how to access available city, county and state public benefits and other resources, enabling more tenants to pay their rent.
STEVE ROSENBLUM: The eviction moratorium was a critical tool to keep people housed when the entire economy was forced to shut down for an extended period in order to save lives. The Federal government immediately responded by enacting many critical policies to help people through this period: 46.5 billion in rental assistance, extended and enhanced unemployment benefits, as well as mortgage forbearance on both residential and multi-family loans.
Despite this robust assistance and rapid economic recovery, many people remain at risk of losing their home. Yet, due to the deep and ongoing economic turmoil and renewed coronavirus outbreaks, many people are still struggling. Analysts estimate that as many as 3.5 millions households are behind on rent, with landlords owed as much as 17 billion. Policies which were appropriate for a time of crisis need to evolve and be tailored to meet the current need. The government cannot freeze the economy and stop payments to one sector for an extended period without triggering a cascading wave of disruptions.
The Federal eviction moratorium has been in place since March 2020 and many landlords have not received rent checks since then, while continuing to be responsible for property tax, mortgage, insurance, and maintenance payments leading to bankruptcies, missed mortgage and tax payments, and cuts in repairs and maintenance. Meanwhile, only 5.2 out of the 46.5 billion in rental assistance has been distributed. The government has already enacted policy and allocated funding to clear the backlog in rents several times over. The failure to get this help to people who need it has been a huge policy blunder.
It is incumbent upon our state and local government to work with landlords and renters to expedite processing of Emergency Rental Assistance and fix the flaws in this program without delay now that the eviction moratorium has been invalidated by the Supreme Court. The Treasury department recently relaxed rules to allow self-reporting of financial information and granted permission for states to send out bulk payments to landlords in anticipation of federal payouts to tenants. Over 60% of renters have vulnerable renters have not even applied for assistance (New York Times 8/25 About 89% of Rental Assistance Funds Have Not Been Distributed, Figures Show). Before proceeding with an eviction, landlords should make every effort to communicate with tenants, connect them with both Federal assistance and County resources, and attempt to work out a mutually beneficial resolution.
DAVID TAKAHASHI: See number 2…RJ would definitely help here. The idea is to hear each other’s concerns and then work out agreements based upon healing relationships. Jumping to the overburdened justice system does the community a disservice. This is an opportunity to heal severed relationship, and the basic building block of community is relationship.
JACQUES DECALO: Relief emergency funds organized by the City, State, and Federal government need to be directed to keep people in houses in case of disasters that are out of their control. If this issue is in the control of tenant, they should work with the landlord before any eviction is made to try and resolve the issue. Loss of total income should have an emergency relief for a month of living cost.
MARK WALLACH: Let’s start with public safety. As of the end of July our police department was down 30 officers from its full complement. We need to fill those vacancies and return our department to its full strength if we want to seriously address the public safety concerns of our residents, our businesses and their employees. A few days ago I initiated a conversation with 2 officers near the Penfield Tate II Municipal Building. Their response to the question of “What do you need?” was immediate: “More bodies”. Due to a variety of factors, our department has been stretched far too thin. It is time to provide the resources needed to actually provide public safety. As for homelessness, we have devoted considerable resources towards this issue. We spend 4 times per capita what is spent in Longmont or Ft. Collins, and more than 5 times per capita what is spent in Colorado Springs. Yet we have not come close to solving the problem. This is hardly surprising: no city experiencing an increase in homelessness has solved the problem. However, one area that we should focus on is providing treatment for those members of the homeless population experiencing drug addiction or mental illness. To do this properly we need assistance from the federal government and the state, neither of which has been forthcoming to date. In fact, Colorado is one of the very worst states in the entire country in providing those resources. We can attempt to do so, allocating some funds from ARPA for this purpose, and working with our sister cities and the County to combine and leverage our resources, but until the state and federal governments awake from their decades long coma and treat this problem with the seriousness it deserves, we are bailing water from a sinking boat with a tea cup. The County has contemplated a new homeless tax, and despite my reluctance to increase taxes in a very highly taxed community, this might be an exception worth considering.
MICHAEL CHRISTY: In brief, I support the camping ban, coordinated entry, Housing First, increased access to mental health services, increased addiction treatment services, and several of the programs already in place designed to keep people with housing insecurity housed. Recent Housing and Human Services programs like the Boulder Targeted Homeless Engagement and Referral Effort (BTHERE), Crisis Intervention and Response Team (CIRT), and the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) are good steps in connecting more individuals with appropriate services. City Council needs to work closely with the judicial system and Judge Cook to ensure court summons for minor offenses, such as camping violations, become an even more effective touch point for getting the unhoused connected with the appropriate services.
Beyond the city alone, I applaud the dedication and hard work that State Representative Judy Amabile is pursuing at the State level for additional inpatient mental and behavioral health facilities. Representative Amabile’s efforts helped secure $450 million in ARPA funds at the state level to set up regional mental health and drug addiction facilities. The city should also push for the completion of the county’s Alternative Sentencing Facility (ASF) approved in 2018, but not due to be completed until 2023. With the opioid settlement money, the city will see additional funding coming through to help support our housing-first strategy and other wrap-around services for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders. Boulder will receive approximately $500,000/year plus additional money to the county.
I am skeptical of sanctioned campgrounds and safe parking facilities. To date, I do not believe that the data supports long-term success stories of city-run sanctioned campgrounds or parking facilities. To be successful, these facilities require rigorous screening for admission, limited capacity, and strict rules, which I believe would drive away many of the same people resistant to current sheltering options. These programs help a small number of people, while diverting funds from other programs.
Boulder cannot do this alone. The city does not have the financial or physical resources to continue to provide the bulk of homeless services for the county, let alone other cities and states. We simple do not have the means to provide permanent supportive Housing First units to everyone who comes to Boulder. The city must support Housing and Human Services in prioritizing longer-term, chronically unhoused Boulder residents for housing, while supporting the expansion of diversion services.
MATT BENJAMIN: All the data and research show that housing solves homelessness. We need to do a better job in providing an array of services to provide stability to our unhoused residents. They simply need a place to go. The City needs to consider a day shelter, sanctioned camping and /or purchase hotels rooms to accommodate our unhoused. This will get them off the streets and give us a better change of providing the services they need to get back on their feet and stay out of homelessness. Criminalizing homelessness will not reduce it. Only make it harder for them to access service and increase the chances that they will remain homeless longer. I would also like the city to invest in a program like the STAR program in Denver. This successful program has taken roughly 1600 911 calls that would have gone to Denver PD. Boulder has solutions to try, we just need the will on Council to act.
NICOLE SPEER: In her 6/22/2021 presentation to council, Chief Herold noted that crime overall has stabilized this year, and she noted property crimes as our biggest area of increase. The common conflation of public safety and homelessness is off base. And when we make that mistake we give the police an impossible job, which may inadvertently contribute to our police department’s continued struggle to recruit and retain officers.
Right now a lot of our police department’s time is spent on issues around homelessness and nuisance complaints. To have more time to address increased property crime, our city needs to prioritize effective solutions to these other issues. As Chief Herold said back in June, “Other city departments have levers that are much more impactful on some of these crime and disorder issues than the police.” When our police chief is telling us to focus on using other city resources to address some of our crime issues, we ought to listen.
For homelessness, we can invest in solutions like day services facilities and supportive housing that get people into housing and help them stay there. A recent, 5-year, randomized-control study conducted in Denver found that 77% of people who entered supportive housing were still housed 3 years later. They had a 34 percent reduction in police contacts and a 40 percent reduction in arrests. And the cost difference to the city for these supportive housing programs was minimal.
Reducing nuisance complaints on the Hill would also free up police time to focus on property crime. The majority of CU students are mature, motivated, and compassionate. And, some are still growing up. As noted previously, I’d like to see CU take more accountability for the students it admits and increase on-campus housing for students who do not have the maturity they need to live independently. Chief Herold’s June presentation noted that a minority of properties accounts for a majority of the nuisance complaints on the Hill, and that 24/7 managers in large apartment complexes are one of the most effective ways to minimize police responses to nuisance complaints. I am curious to hear BARHA’s thoughts on these points.
LAUREN FOLKERTS: We need to be looking at the public safety of all residents, from children in our parks to those who have no legal resting places. This year our City Council decided to increase our budget on enforcement of the camping ban by $3 million. Many experts at both the national and local level argue that this strategy is ineffective, expensive, and harmful to our community. Any enforcement of the camping ban needs to be paired with reasonable alternatives and legal places to sleep for our unhoused residents. There are currently a number of barriers to accessing services and shelter in our community. I recently spoke to someone who worked at Home depot, and was saving up for first and last month’s rent so he could get an apartment. If he was asked to work late, he was unable to make it to the shelter before closing and would be forced to sleep outside. This is just one example of why we need to look at changing policies around facility hours, storage of belongings, and safety within the shelter for all residents. Beyond sheltering we should increase support for local non-profits filling gaps in social services, and create a day shelter to help connect residents with these services.
The heart of the issue is that there are people in our community that are experiencing need. The crime that we’re seeing is often a symptom of that need. You can drain our budget dry fighting the symptoms, but until we invest in our social safety net we will not make significant progress addressing these issues.
DANIEL WILLIAMS: The current Boulder crime statistics do not bear out the premises of this question. According to the City’s on-line real-time crime data, year-over-year crime has been down for three out of the last four months. https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/0b731bfe749044a797c512e8a7a0725a/ Likewise, I do not believe there is any actual data to support the contention that the increase in crime Boulder experienced in 2020 and early 2021 was causally connected to issues of homelessness or drug use, and indeed national crime experts explained that many communities saw increased crime during this time because of the fallout from COVID-19 shutdowns. We need to address both the issue of crime in Boulder and the issue of homelessness, because each issue presents a serious problem, but if we ignore the data and conflate these issues, we will not implement the most effective solutions for each problem.
With respect to public safety, I propose that we focus police resources where they belong – on fighting property crime and crimes against people. We are currently asking our police to devote substantial time and attention to social problems like homelessness and noise complaints, and according to Boulder’s police chief, the police have not been able to make a dent in either of these problems, notwithstanding enforcement efforts. We need to shift resources to civilian personnel to address the social problems of homelessness and noise complaints, and with respect to homelessness, we need to expand services including day shelters and no-questions-asked night shelters so that there is somewhere for unhoused people to be other than in public parks and similar places.
STEVE ROSENBLUM: Please see my website for my complete platform on addressing public safety, homelessness, and the dual substance abuse and mental health epidemics. https://www.steveforboulder.com/public-safety
On the issues of increased crime, public safety, homelessness and drug use, I agree with Chief Herrold that these are THE most important issues facing Boulder today. The core of my platform is a recognition that public safety and welcoming shared spaces are the most basic responsibility of government and a prerequisite for everything else we care about: our local businesses, the environment, our parks and open space, social cohesion, alternative transportation, healthy neighborhoods, etc. In order to restore safety to our community and act with compassion towards the unhoused, we should:
In addition, I fully support the ban on tents and propane tanks in public spaces. True compassion lies in helping people in need get on a path to a better life, not enabling them to continue their difficult and dangerous lives on the street.
DAVID TAKAHASHI: I am not sure about the phrasing of this rather rhetorical question. I just had to buy my daughter a $400 cage to keep her Prius Catalytic converter from being stolen when they are hard to replace due to supply chain breakdowns. Is this the homeless? There are bicycles being stolen, even from garages when owners are in the garage, is this the homeless? Our neighborhood has reports of cars being broken into. Is this the homeless?
For the homeless I am believer that we don’t have a crime problem, we have a people problem. I have been looking at homeless solutions around the country, and I am finding the common denominator for success has to do with restoring human dignity. The best solution I have found is Community First! Village in Austin TX. It is something like 160 acres of mixed housing that uses coordinated entry to identify homeless that would benefit from humane treatment to get their lives back on track.
JACQUES DECALO: Homelessness is an issue that is deeper than just one resolution. We have to address the mental health issue of homeless people. We have to encourage them to want to contribute in a beneficial way to society. We have to figure out how to motivate them, to get back on their feet. Boulder has housing options available for people looking for shelter to get back on their feet, but we don’t do enough to get them actively wanting to be better. The push aside method does not suit Boulder in any way. We must address the issues at hand and help rehabilitate these people.