By Dom Nozzi
While there are countless reasons why I love living in the city of Boulder, I sometimes am surprised to stumble upon a disappointment. Boulder has successfully established a number of urban design and transportation policies to create a very high quality of life. An essential element in its many admirable efforts to promote this quality is to discourage car trips and promote walking, bicycling and transit use. Indeed, the City has been so successful that it has, per capita, one of the highest (if not the highest) rates of ped/bike/transit travel of any city of a similar size (something like a 20% modal split).
This morning, I went to 3-4 different bike-to-work free breakfast stations around town for this annual event that is so large that “Pee Wee Herman” even tweeted about it a few days ago. Thousands of bicyclists participate in this much-talked-about event.
So imagine my surprise and disappointment when I went to a co-housing open house in central Boulder yesterday to learn that this affordable housing project (Washington Village) follows policies required by the City of Boulder which significantly undercuts affordable housing objectives and car trip reduction objectives.
Washington Village will have about 10 affordable housing units ($90K to $225K) at the northern periphery of a compact, walkable downtown. The project is well-served by sidewalks. It is proximate enough to many daily travel needs that it is quite bikeable. It is an easy walk to the world-famous Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall from its location. And Washington Village fronts Broadway Ave, which is extremely well served by frequent (“SKIP”) bus service.
We also know that low-income families tend to own less cars per capita than wealthier families.
It is also important to note that a critically important component that makes co-housing an inherently affordable living arrangement is that households are able to share many things, such as appliances, tools, child care, and cars, instead of each household having to own their own sets of these household items.
Despite all this, the City of Boulder apparently requires all new residential housing units at Washington Village to provide parking. That requirement has apparently led this co-housing project to “bundle” the cost of parking into the cost of the housing. “Unbundling” the cost of parking from the cost of the house allows people like me – who don’t own a car – to choose to buy more house for the money. To choose not to buy expensive, unneeded parking. And not be required to accept less house in exchange for being forced to pay thousands of dollars for parking that I don’t need. As Donald Shoup notes in his High Cost of Free Parking book, bundling the parking cost into the housing cost creates a strong financial vested interest in owning household cars. After all, the parking has already been paid for by the household. Why let it go to waste?
I should note that Boulder housing is EXTREMELY expensive, in large part because of the very high cost of land in a city with a very high quality of life. That means that the provision of parking space here is relatively very high compared to other cities. Affordable housing, therefore, is very difficult to provide here if parking is required.
As a result, even though I can easily qualify for affordable housing due to my modest income, and even though I would love to own a home in central Boulder (where I would have wonderful bus, bike and pedestrian conditions), the bundled cost of parking for this co-housing project has led me to lose interest in considering this housing option.
What a shame.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
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