Diane Curlette: Healing the rift over proposed co-op ordinance

This post has been published in the Daily Camera as a Guest Opinion.

Healing needs to happen around the rift in the Boulder community caused by the content of the proposed new co-op housing ordinance and the process used to construct it.

The new co-op ordinance was written mainly by a few privileged young people seeking cheap Boulder housing, in private meetings with the City Attorney, and with the implicit backing of self- interested growth and density-promoting developers. The injurious nature of this proposed new ordinance has been revealed in the light of public scrutiny.

Single family-zoned neighborhoods ofthe city, already under duress from high levels of over-occupied investor rentals, stand to suffer grievous damage to their sense of security, stability and peaceful lifestyle. This is on top of the possible loss of monetary value of most families’ largest asset — their home. Many homebuyers understandably seek low density neighborhoods, specifically because of the noise and traffic they’ve experienced in high density settings elsewhere. In addition, many homebuyers prefer the stability of long term neighbors they can get to know, and rely on – not the constant revolving door of very temporary, self-described “modern nomads” that typify young co-op enthusiasts. When confronted with the presence of one of these co-ops next door, many homebuyers will pass, effectively lowering the resale value of the unfortunate “regular” home for sale.

And homes of modest size and price will be most vulnerable to exploitation. Their owners rightly complain that wealthy privileged city council members, some of whom own rentals, will not have their mansions at risk and may instead gain financially from the ordinance. Indeed, comments by some current council members seem to indicate they owe their recent election to well-funded groups promoting higher density housing and new co-op provisions.

A large number of citizens are suffering stress and anxiety due to this proposed ordinance. Many have expressed loss of hope of influencing public policy and anger about the duplicity involved in this process. City Council members, your actions are causing a breach of trust between citizens and their leadership — a very serious turn of events.

Healing the breach of trust and restoring faith in Boulder’s city government can be done through actions by the city council and staff.

Recommendation one: Scrap the proposed, faulty new coop ordinance. Admit that many citizens who will be adversely affected by this ordinance are opposed to its creation process and contents.

Recommendation two: Keep the existing co-op ordinance, that has been in place for years, in force. It is well-written and based on thoughtful consideration for both co-op residents and their neighbors.

Recommendation three: Make the existing co-op ordinance work as intended. When asked by neighbors why there are no existing co-ops living under the existing ordinance, the City Attorney replied, in effect, It is currently easy to illegally over-occupy a house, so no one bothers to use the existing, well balanced co-op ordinance. To correct this situation, the city should notify all residential property owners of the legal occupancy limits permitted by zoning and set a date by which enforcement of such zoning will occur.

Recommendation four: City Council needs to hire and support more occupancy enforcement officers. Currently, the City has just one occupancy enforcement officer for the 20,000 rental residences in Boulder!

Recommendation five: To support the increased enforcement staff and stronger rental permit enforcement, all rentals should be required to be licensed. This license guarantees tenant safety inspections every four years and licensed rentals pay fees to the City. The vast number of illegal, unlicensed rentals contributes to the shortage of funds for hiring more enforcement staff.

Recommendation six: Landlords who claim an historic exemption for over-occupancy levels should have to face a public hearing on their permit. The results of these decisions should be public and binding.

Doubtlessly these recommendations will generate loud and powerful opposition — from the slumlords, the investors, the over- occupiers and, possibly, City Council members who owe their seats, in part, to this noisy crowd. But the health and integrity of our neighborhoods is at stake. It is time to take brave and positive action. Please speak up for your interests, neighbors, before it is too late.

Diane Curlette