Longmont to Re-examine Affordable Housing Requirements for Developers
Mayor Brian Bagley called the City Council’s decision late Tuesday night to re-examine ways to prompt developers to build affordable housing in Longmont “probably the most important thing we will do this year.”
The council voted 4-2 near the end of a meeting that adjourned around 11:30 p.m. to ask city staff to research a so-called inclusionary zoning measure requiring developers of market-price housing to construct a certain number of units to be designated as affordable housing.
Bagley and Councilwoman Bonnie Finley cast the votes against the motion, airing concerns that the requirement would deter development in Longmont.
The council’s signal that it will re-examine an inclusionary housing policy comes seven years after Longmont dropped its requirement for a 10 percent match in affordable units with any construction of market-priced housing.
In the interim, Kathy Fedler, the city’s housing and community investment division manager, told the council, Longmont has not gained one unit of affordable housing under its current incentive-based program for developers.
Under the current policy, a “density boost” is offered to developers that agree to build a certain number of affordable units, giving them the option to build 20 percent more market-rate homes on a property than otherwise allowed.
The former inclusionary zoning program that called on developers to make a 10 percent match resulted in a net gain of 174 for-sale affordable homes in the city and 625 for-rent affordable homes, Fedler said.
During Tuesday night’s public comment period, two Northern Colorado realtors — Cher Smith, chair of the Longmont Association of Realtors, and Christine Cavalier — opposed an inclusionary zoning policy revival in Longmont. Their remarks clashed with support for such a policy from 23-year-old resident Jake Marsing hours before City Council discussed the matter with Fedler.
Both realtors said a revived inclusionary zoning program would suck up the supply of housing in Longmont by deterring developers from building, and an accompanying steady demand would drive housing costs up even more.
Marsing’s following address was met with light applause from audience members packed into council chambers for the start of the meeting.
“It’s not your job to worry about the developers’ bottom lines. I’m a fourth-generation Longmont resident, and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stay here. I desperately want to serve this community,” Marsing said, noting that he knows people his age who have moved across the Weld County line for cheaper homes, as well as that Boulder has a 25 percent inclusionary zoning requirement.
Bagley said the higher affordable housing requirement in Boulder still attracts developers because of its more competitive property market.
“That works because the land value in Boulder is six to seven times the value it is here,” Bagley said. “Builders are able to come in and still make more money. I don’t think an inclusionary zoning program is going to fix what we want it to fix. You will have a lesser desire to build in our community. The market is what will provide the middle income type of housing.
“Homes in Longmont will continue to get more expensive. I’m not advocating we have a free-for-all, but the supply and demand curve establishes the price of the house. That is a reality we cannot escape.”
Councilwoman Marcia Martin agreed some sort of inclusionary housing program should be reinstated, but said an updated model that strays from some specifics of the previous policy may best suit the current market conditions.
“I think the invisible hand of the market has been picking the pockets of the lower 50 percent of income earners for the past 35 years ... so we should just dispense with the notion that supply and demand is going to fix things. Let’s not hear it anymore,” Martin said. “I do think we need to have at least a brief discussion of a redesign of the inclusionary housing program, because I don’t think (the former policy) is quite right for the conditions we’re in.”
The meeting was adjourned to give Fedler and her staff three weeks to prepare a list of factors they would want researched before the council would vote on funding a third-party study to help craft a policy.
Mayor Pro Tem Polly Christensen suggested that should the city revive inclusionary zoning, it be applied to any developers with active building proposals pending before the city.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/samlounz .