The ADU revision process has been many things. For some it has been an ADU 101, just getting to know the territory. For others it has been a huge awakening to the power of preconception and prejudice. Yes, prejudice. When I read the note one of our City Council members posted on Hotline, I was surprised — surely he can‘t be saying this? I recognize that the vast majority of current ADUs and potential ADUs are owned by folks of modest means who have probably been in Boulder for decades, which is how these highly valued properties came into their ownership. And from the ADU survey the city of Boulder conducted last year, knowing why folks are building their ADUs is not a secret. Never was the term windfall used, implied, or supposed. My surprise shifted as I read the rest of the note. And suddenly I was feeling things I hadn‘t felt since I was a kid being bullied. To be accused of seeking a windfall from a need to develop my property with an ADU was rather horrifying. Because as a longtime resident of Boulder, I have witnessed windfalls being made to the left and right and before and behind in our single-family neighborhoods. Windfalls for speculative for-profit developers and their teams. A windfall like any other boon leaves behind it either the environment or society to pay the price. There still is no free ride. The price is paid somewhere.
Here is the quote that set me up for contemplation: “We simply need to make sure that what arises from any rule changes are indeed more affordable housing options, and not simply a windfall for existing property owners.” Posted by a member of Boulder City Council (Hotline May 23).
ADUs are championed as middle-income housing purveyors, for both owners and renters. Deep robust national data affirms that ADUs naturally are offered at lower-than-market rates and many are offered free to friends or family or in exchange for critical assistance. Additionally there are magnificent innovations where ADUs are housing homeless and being used to assist families through health challenges that would otherwise entail costly facilities. No windfalls on any ADU horizon. The ADU culture simply does not have greed in its DNA.
My emotions roll into sadness as I consider this ADU culture. Sadness for Boulder, who seems to be driven by an urge to capitalize everything. We tout many honorable values in our comprehensive plan, whose vision includes “to create and preserve a truly special place that is sustainable, resilient, equitable and inclusive — now and for future generations.” Yet in making policy, the fear of what an ADU could do to our city has been alarming. Small, sustainable, equitable and inclusive houses, with small, sustainable and resilient footprints, built and owned by mostly long-term, middle-income inclusive neighbors, casting a shadow of maybe 1 percent over the housing in Boulder: these small second-house property owners are racing forth to gain their windfall in the hysterical Boulder real estate market, really? It would be a lot easier to just sell out to the developer and walk away with what seems like a windfall and watch as the property is maximized for profit and more windfall. With the land and the people paying the true cost. I am sad to think of the many folks who have been pushed beyond their ability to remain in their Boulder homes. Those of us who are championing ADUs know that the folks who want them are also the folks who need them. This is not a speculative market.
The thought of a mighty small house working hard to help our housing crisis is reassuring. Surely Boulder realizes the benefits of small houses with small footprints and noticeable pervious ground that manages stormwater, recharges groundwater, retains mature trees, creates shade, and provides massing diversity, view corridors and nature options for more residents? This image reminds that small houses also support a new direction in bigger thinking: minimalism, whereby less is more; right-sizing, where you keep only what matters; simple living, where priorities are reimagined; and intentional consumption, where the environment is once again considered. Getting back to what is important and freeing time and energy to create community with those who might not look or live like us.
I have hope that our elected leaders can see us. We are not seeking a windfall, we are asking for informed leadership.