Matt Appelbaum’s statement on Co-ops, 12/6

Sender: Appelbaum, Matt

Colleagues and the community: Since I unfortunately will not be able to attend the Dec. 6 council meeting, I’m sending this Hotline to offer some thoughts on coop housing as follows:

First, an important aside, regarding the recognition of David Driskell.  I can only state the obvious: David has been an extraordinary leader, bringing us new ideas and perspectives on an amazingly wide range of topics, offering clear and thoughtful advice on the most complex and controversial issues, and representing the city on several key national and international committees, particularly in the areas of sustainability and energy.  David will be very, very much missed, but we were very lucky that he chose to stay in Boulder as long as he did.  Obviously I wish him the very best in Portland…but didn’t we make it clear to them during our visit that they couldn’t steal our people?!

As for coops, I am at a disadvantage having to state my thoughts in advance of the meeting and thus not hearing from my fellow councilmembers.  On the other hand, I suppose it’s an advantage to be able to ramble on a bit here, knowing that folks can read as much or as little as they’d like.

— It’s quite unfortunate that both Andrew and I won’t be present.  Suffice to say that any decisions made by a closely divided council may come up again at third reading when the full council is present.

— As a general comment, I still think that we should try to make this work.  I’ve remain concerned, however, that doing so will use up an awful lot of “political capital” regarding housing, and that does trouble me since I don’t think that coops are the most important issue in that most-important bucket.  However, we really don’t have very many plausible tools that will assist with housing needs, so every incremental bit helps.  I would add that it is all too easy to continually state that any specific solution isn’t a good one but that there are others that are much better…and then, almost inevitably, oppose those other solutions too when they are suggested.  Any change is hard and controversial, but if we’re at all serious about housing and diversity then some well-implemented changes are needed, and none will be even close to “perfect” or get initial support from everyone.

— One other general comment: if the key issue here is (potential) “impact” on the community in general and on nearby residents in particular, then that’s what we should focus on.  So, for example, I don’t quite see how house size, or square feet per person, or even zoning district, makes much difference.  While I too can’t quite imagine living with twelve people in 2000 sq. ft., others certainly can make it work, and the “impact” is the same whether that house is 1800 sq. ft., 2000 sq., ft., or 3000 sq. ft.  The size of the lot might matter more, but lot sizes vary considerably even within a single zone.  So while we certainly need a strong set of regulations, I’d like to keep them as “simple” as we can, and thus I don’t support having different rules for house size and resident numbers based on zoning district.

— packet page 400, section 6, definitions: Block Face needs to be fixed

— pp 404, line 12: just to be really picky, “less” should be “fewer”

— pp 405, line 1 (d): “No cooperative housing unit may [be] located…”  Is a “unit” interpreted to be the entire lot that the house is on, so that no overlap on the entire lot is allowed?  I assume it does mean that, and it’s certainly what I intended with my 500’ radius concept.  I’m fine with switching to using lot lines, but note that doing so increases the separation to some extent – generally, I would expect, by another lot in each direction.

— pp 407, line 4 (A): 2 years for a rental re-inspection is what we want, but it seems to be written to indicate that a full baseline is needed every time, which conflicts with the earlier reference to a renewal on pp 403, line 15

— pp 407, line 23 (F): fix typo

— Maximum number of residents in a coop: not sure where the discussion will go, but here’s a suggestion to keep things fairly simple – and, of course, quite “imperfect.”  Allow up to 10 (or perhaps only 8) in a rental coop.  Allow up to 12 in the two types of equity coops.  Note that the planning board can allow for more residents in a permanently affordable coop of the type that will be owned by a group equity coop (and perhaps the other types as well).

— One item I would add regarding the number of residents is that the coop must provide a “plausible” plan that shows where everyone will sleep.  This is not intended to limit occupancy, but to ensure that everyone has legal egress – which I think is the city’s most important consideration (by the way, all rental units should need to demonstrate this, I think).

— We need to try our best to enforce the IPMC (again, this should be the case with all rental units).

— Regarding the 500’ separation (interpreted as noted above): some have proposed a set number per neighborhood.  Given that our “neighborhoods” (in quotes because we don’t really have any definitions here) vary widely in size – to the tune of perhaps 10 to 1 if not 20 or more to 1 in some instances – it would be grossly unfair to allow one coop in a tiny “neighborhood” and only 1 in a huge “neighborhood.”  So separation distance is simply the best surrogate we have for limiting “impact.”  Yes, a large “neighborhood” may indeed have several coops, but they will be spaced approximately a couple of standard-sized city blocks apart in all directions.

— As I suggested at the previous council meeting, I think that this ordinance should effectively sunset in 2 (or at most 3) years, forcing the council to decide if it should be renewed and if so with which revisions.  I know that would require another huge public process and more controversy, but it’s simply the right thing to do (and, I really need to add, while we do need to have good public processes, I think that council often refuses to revisit outdated decisions – the north Boulder subcommunity plan comes to mind – because of the difficulty in doing so).

— I have a few concerns about how income is handled in determining if a coop is permanently affordable (pp 405, line 1 (e)).  First, I think that anyone who is a (federal tax) dependent of someone else doesn’t qualify (yes, I’m thinking of students) unless that someone else also lives in the coop.  I think the city manager would need to be able to waive this in certain circumstances, such as for an older person who might be a dependent.  Second, “income” is always a shaky measure since wealth is far more important, but for this special case I guess income will do.  Finally, I think I would raise the limit from 60% to 80%; “affordable” coops should be able to house folks with “moderate” incomes.

— Finally, the very controversial issue of minimum house size.  I would, as I noted last time, make the minimum something in the 1600 to 1700 square foot range.  Yes, this would allow more coops in certain areas (that don’t want them…), but more importantly it would open up other areas to coops so they might disperse a bit more.  Hard to predict the outcome – which is another reason why this all needs to be monitored and council needs to be willing to change things fairly quickly if they’re not working – but I believe the benefits would outweigh the potential negatives.

— And the other aspect of house size that has been raised is whether they can be located in houses that have been expanded “recently.”  Given the very small number of coops allowed/likely, I would not take this additional step for now.  If we stick to maximum resident numbers that are not tied to square footage (as we should) there will be limited incentive to do this.  I certainly agree that we’d prefer to not have more houses enlarged, but we’re perhaps talking about a handful here…versus the many hundreds that are owner-occupied or are rentals.

Sorry I won’t be there, even though it will be a long night.

–Matt from my phone; pls xcuse typos

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