Dear City Council,
First, thank you so much for the time and energy you have put into the co-op ordinance over the last year. It feels like we are very close to getting something that works both for co-ops and the broader public, and makes a small but meaningful contribution toward the City’s affordable housing goals. At this point the discussion seems to come down to a short list of parameters:
Maximum Occupancy Caps by Zone:
While they will have serious impacts on some existing communities, we can live with the maximum occupancy caps in the draft ordinance: 12 in low, and 15 in medium & high density zones. Despite the negative effects on some valued communities, these caps would allow for stable houses that create real affordability. The pro forma you’ve received from Lincoln Miller indicates that a 12 person co-op needs $25,000K/person in public funding to serve members earning 43% of AMI, while an 8 person co-op would require $87,500/person (3.5x as much) to serve members at the same income level.
Minimum Habitable Space Per Person:
In addition to the occupancy caps above, we can accept a minimum required habitable space of 200sf per person. We support a limit like this that scales with the size of the home, enabling smaller co-ops in smaller homes and larger co-ops in larger homes. Sadly, this limitation will result in some existing communities breaking apart or needing to reorganize considerably. In some cases, reorganization can hopefully be accomplished over a period of time so that natural turnover can be the mechanism, rather than anybody being forced to leave.
Minimum Home Size:
While we would prefer that rental co-ops have access to at least half of the single family rental market (which would mean a minimum house size of 1500sf), we can support limiting rental cooperatives to houses larger than 2000sf. This excludes rental co-ops from half of all single family homes and roughly three quarters of licensed rentals. This limitation should allow smaller families to access smaller “starter homes.”
Required Co-op Dispersion:
In the low density zones, while we would prefer a buffer of no more than 300’ (equivalent to ~1 co-op per block) to our knowledge the 500’ buffer would not result in any existing communities being excluded. Given the minimum lot size of 7,000sf in many low density zones, a 500’ buffer means that less than 1% of properties in a neighborhood could ever become co-ops. To put it another way, the 500’ buffer is equivalent allowing only a single co-op for every 18 acres of land. This restriction also powerfully limits the maximum cumulative impact that co-ops can have on shared city utility infrastructure.
On Street Parking:
In our experience, allowing no more than 3 vehicles to be parked on street should be workable for a variety of different types of co-ops, and will appropriately limit a co-ops impacts on parking availability in their neighborhood to what might be experienced from a typical rental.
Further Comments on Occupancy Caps:
All the benefits of co-ops and sharing a home — affordability, sustainability, and community — flow directly from increased occupancy. We have provided detailed information on the sustainability benefits of co-ops before. Below we focus on affordability and community aspects of occupancy.
Lincoln Miller from the Boulder Housing Coalition has already provided you with more detailed information and a pro forma related to the affordability of non-profit owned group equity cooperatives. Below we focus on rental co-ops.
The CU Department of Geography study on co-ops which you have previously received found that 87% of rental co-op respondents earned less than 50% of Boulder AMI, or $34,703.50. Reducing the allowed occupancy in rental co-ops within the RL zones to 8 would clearly mean increases in rent, ranging from 25% to 75% for the currently illegal rental co-ops (see below). Many people who live in these communities work service jobs and also dedicate substantial volunteer time to social and environmental justice causes. Such large rent increases would likely force them out.
In our experience, the most affordable rental co-ops are those that have the most residents. Besides potentially uprooting existing communities, not allowing these larger communities would preclude us from creating more of the most affordable communities.
It’s been our experience that cooperative households typically need 10 to 16 people to ensure that the household runs smoothly and is resilient to change. Members must not only take responsibility for larger tasks, like house accounting (imperative when co-ops are legal entities), house food systems, and membership, but also for smaller daily tasks like making dinner, cleaning, and property maintenance. Having more members also allows cooperatives to take on home improvement projects like gardening and renovations, and work within their neighborhoods like hosting peer to peer learning events, or helping to organize a Neighborhood EcoPass program.
Beyond sharing labor, the vital sense of community that comes with cooperative living is also typically associated with larger membership: there are more folks around to share one another’s company. With fewer people, the absence of a single member becomes noticeable, and household systems become less resilient to the ebb and flow of life. With 12 members, if someone has big deadlines at work, or it’s finals week, or they get sick, or depressed, or are out of town on travel, and thus they have to step back from their household responsibilities for a little while, the household systems are still functional. With 6-8 people, this is much less true. Every absence is noticed in a small household.
Much of the overhead associated with household governance and accountability is fixed, and having more people to share those tasks means less work for everyone.These are tasks like setting up a budget and accounting system, tracking household labor contributions, holding regular meetings and curating the decision making process, managing the new member selection process, purchasing bulk food and household goods, etc. With fewer members there can be a temptation to let household governance systems fall by the wayside, but it’s still challenging to deal with issues and responsibilities informally when you have 6-8 members. Co-ops really thrive with 12 members.
The existing functional co-ops are operating at occupancy levels that the residents have imposed on themselves — they’re living in a way that they feel effectively balances cost and personal space, as well as the benefits and obligations that come from cohabitation. Any law that does not respect and enable these chosen living arrangements will be disruptive. If the disruption is substantial, it may mean that cooperatives are forced to disband entirely, damaging our broader community.
On behalf of the BoCHA Advocacy Committee, thank you for your invaluable and tireless public service.
Alana Wilson, Cedar Barstow, Christina Gosnell, Eric Budd, Lincoln Miller, Neshama Abraham, Philip Horner, Sarah Dawn Haynes, Sean Collins, Steven Winter, and Zane Selvans.