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Boulder grapples with its affordable housing crisis




Home prices are ballooning in Boulder, Colo., and the issues facing the idyllic city at the foot of the Rockies could serve as a warning to the rest of the country.

“We are in the middle of a full-fledged housing crisis,” Boulder City Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano tells Yahoo Finance. “The average single-family home price in our community just tipped over $1 million. It’s almost impossible to find anything attached or detached for under $600,000 now. About 52% of our community rents, and of our renter population a majority of them are paying more than 50% of their income on housing.”

Boulder’s home prices are staggering compared to the national average — $377,200 as of September, according to the Census — but the affordability issue at the core of the city’s housing crisis is taking root across the country as well. “It’s not just a Boulder problem,” says Adam Swetlik, a member of the Boulder Housing Advisory Board and part of PLAN Boulder, a citizen advocacy group. “People just get pushed out the more inequality grows.”

For Google employee Meredith Williams, who moved with her family to Boulder last year after living in Boston and the Bay Area, the escalations in the local market are cause for concern.

“Coming from the East Coast and coming from the Bay Area, the living is easy,” Williams says. “I left the Bay Area and I left Palo Alto and I left all of that because it was expensive, because it was difficult, because people weren’t engaged. So I want to make sure that Boulder doesn’t become Bay Area East.”

Williams’ move to join her company’s local office was part of a larger wave that the city has been encouraging. “Boulder is sort of a tech hub, definitely not as big a Silicon Valley but very big for startups, very big for companies that want to provide an awesome, awesome environment for their employees to live and work,” Swetlik says. “When you have all this demand and you can’t really build supply very quickly because of the regulations, the prices just increase and increase and increase.”

Those regulations include Boulder’s aggressive zoning rules, which limit the number of units on a property and the number of unrelated people that can live together, among other things – which means there’s less real estate available for young single professionals to double or triple up with roommates to save money on housing. “Eighty-three percent of our residentially zoned land in Boulder is zoned low-density, and within our low-density zones we have some of the strictest rules in the entire country,” Grano says.

Williams is especially cognizant of what she and her fellow tech company workers represent — and how their presence may be contributing to the current crisis.

“Bottom line for us, the housing market going up is an advantage, but that’s also somewhat conflicting because that’s a signifier of it becoming less and less affordable for other people, and that’s not actually what we want and how we want to live in this community,” she says. “How do I mitigate the fact that me and my compatriots are contributing to this housing boom that is pushing out a lot of the original people that made the town so great?”

She isn’t the only one concerned about addressing the rising affordability crisis. “This is going to get worse before it gets better, and it’s going to take compromise and everyone giving a little bit to come up with a solution that we need to address it,” Grano says. “If we can start to address this on the national level, I think we can have more solutions, more funding and greater national awareness of this issue and it can stop being such an isolated city-by-city issue.”

Yahoo Finance visited Boulder for HuffPost’s Listen to America town hall series installment on housing affordability and to talk to residents and local officials about the issues posed by a market that serves as a snapshot of what’s happening across the country.

Watch the full HuffPost Listen to America town hall for To Develop Or Preserve: A Conversation About Affordable Housing In Boulder, CO.

Grano is optimistic about that national conversation moving forward, given recent developments beyond the Boulder County borders.

“One of the things that I’m excited about right now is that the Democratic Party is starting to pick up on the housing crisis as a platform, and I see that in California,” Grano says. “And also Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently introduced a bill to help encourage new housing and also to reduce rents, but what’s happened so far is it’s really been a city-by-city problem.”

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter.



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