Boulder voters should reject exclusivism again this November

I moved to Boulder in 2009, renting a few feet outside the city, dwelling with unrelated roommates as would not have been legal within the city limits. While living there, I would marry my once “unrelated” girlfriend, and we would start our family. We were privileged to become homeowners and move inside the city in 2018. It was challenging then; I fear it will be near impossible for future generations.

Boulder’s population peaked in 2019 and has been slowly declining ~275 people/year in the following years. Our school district is struggling to keep classes open. If this trend continues, they will be considering which schools to close. Population decline is one of the many impacts of decades of exclusivist policies. 

A September 1 op-ed by Steve Pomerance described a vision for a more exclusive Boulder focused on “quality over quantity”. The Boulder he advocated for had fewer citizens permitted to dwell here legally and with fewer voters involved with selecting their representatives.

Mr. Pomerance and I agree that people who work in Boulder should have the opportunity to live close to where they work. We agree that we must address our public safety and homelessness crisis and that we should find a way to incentivize the reduction of single-occupancy vehicular traffic & parking congestion. Where we disagree is how we should go about achieving these goals.

While Mr. Pomerance recognizes that increased housing will “slightly decrease per-capita demand”, he opposes increasing it. While Mr. Pomerance expresses concern about local emissions, there is no regard for the regional and global impacts of urban sprawl, commuting, traffic, and pollution that result from low density. We can be better than this and embrace the environmentalist mantra of thinking globally and acting locally.

Boulder’s inclusionary housing aims to help create permanently affordable housing. If we double the requirement to 50% of all new developments as Mr. Pomerance proposes, the remaining half of the housing would have to generate much more profit per housing unit for the build to be viable. This would motivate the remaining half of the housing units to be as high-end as possible, leaving high-contrast buildings incorporating low-income basement apartments under high-income penthouses, with nothing in between for middle-income folks. Such a policy would further segregate our community on wealth and income.

Mr. Pomerance said he wanted more money for downpayment assistance programs and would use development fees to pay for that program. It is easy to say that we should fund programs by making it more difficult to develop housing when writing from a home whose development was not stifled. Mr. Pomerance and PLAN-Boulder’s anti-development policies led to large numbers of stagnant, vacant commercial buildings and an east Boulder declared an economically distressed “opportunity” zone.

When the rules become too extreme, property owners will give up on redeveloping and just decide to leave a place underused or vacant rather than be forced to meet financially unacceptable conditions. While we have seen several troubled commercial properties, such as Diagonal Plaza or Alpine/Balsam, begin to rise out of stagnation, many blighted areas remain. The recent shift away from exclusivist policies is responsible for much of the progress that we have seen.

Single-family zoning prevents more and better housing options. Our desirable lifestyle attracts wealthy jet-setters wanting to add a mountain home to their portfolio. Luxury remodels are more common than converting older homes into duplexes. Wealthy outsiders or “old money” finance the high-end rebuilds of single-family homes. They keep the lawns maintained and guest bedrooms unoccupied. As a result, vacancy increases, population decreases, and residential neighborhoods become even less utilized. Boulder should keep it legal for collections of over three unrelated roommates to compete for space in our city.

I want our kids and grandkids to have the best opportunity to reside and thrive in Boulder. Our leadership should continue to advance policies that will help those besides the wealthy to get a foothold here. Improving the utilization of our city is critical to keeping our community rejuvenated and vibrant as we head into the future. 

Henry Koren is the Chief Product Officer of Imatest, raising his family in Table Mesa. Email:

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