Alexander Quinn Koenigseker: Problems with Longmont ‘inclusionary housing’ proposal

Due to the always present problem of affordable housing in Boulder County and the growing number of new developments in Longmont, Longmont City Council is revisiting the “inclusionary housing” policy that was enacted for 10 years before being repealed in 2011. The policy would require 10 percent of all new residences be designated as affordable before plans can be approved by the city. At first glance, this policy seems like a great addition that would dramatically increase the number of affordable residences in Longmont from the limited 1,611 that can be found now (city of Longmont “Affordable Rental Information”). What could possibly be a downside to Inclusionary Policy? Well, developers don’t have to develop in Longmont or at all.

When the policy was first passed in 2001, the number of residential building permits issued by the city of Longmont was at its highest since data was available in 1973 with a total of 1,641 permits. The following year, the number of permits issued for residential buildings dropped dramatically to a mere 983 and continued to drop, hitting a low in 2009 with a total of 63 permits being issued. Two years later it was later repealed due to the assumption that it was stunting development growth and putting too much of a burden on the home development community (Longmont Workforce Housing Task Force Report to City Council).

In 2012, one year after the policy was repealed, the number of permits issued by the city more than doubled from 119 to 378 and has continued to increase with 1,009 permits issued in 2017 with no signs of slowing down (Longmont Planning and Development Services Reports).

Is inclusionary housing the best policy for Longmont? No, and we have seen that in the past and so has larger cities such as Denver and Oakland. In 2013, Gov. Brown wrote, “As mayor of Oakland, I saw how difficult it can be to attract development to low- and middle-income communities. Requiring developers to include below-market units in their projects can exacerbate these challenges, even while not meaningfully increasing the amount of affordable housing in a given community.” (NY Times, “Affordable Housing That’s Very Costly”). Does this mean that we are doomed to never have affordable housing? No, we just need a different approach. Longmont currently has an incentive program for developers that allocate 10 percent of their units for affordable housing. These include an expedited review process, density bonuses, fee waivers and subsidies for water/sewer system development fees (longmontcolorado.gov, “Affordable Housing Incentives for Developers”). These are standard ways that most cities that are growing as fast as Longmont are using to increase the amount of affordable housing available. To solve the affordable housing shortage, it will take innovation and creativity instead of standard incentives.

In 2016, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced a new revolving fund to address the same lack of affordable housing that we are seeing in Longmont. The fund is used to support the difference of the affordable housing and current market rates for families that have a household income below the local average. This provides a large incentive for developers while providing affordable housing for families that need them. An adapted version of Denver’s fund could become equally successful in Longmont and a much better alternative to the proposed inclusionary housing policy. Opening a fee-based expedited process and adjusting current affordable housing incentives would allow Longmont to build the capital required to properly integrate the program without increasing taxes on residents. This expedited process would allow for non-affordable housing developments to take advantage of the fast track process while raising the capital needed to support the fund.

This is only one option of the many that Longmont should examine before acting on inclusionary housing. There may not be a perfect solution to the problem of affordable housing but it will require innovation and creativity on the part of City Council and not just the re-implementation of past programs that have failed.

Alexander Koenigseker call.com is a student attending the University of Colorado Boulder, studying information management in the Leeds Business School.

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