Littleton City Council appears poised to adopt an inclusionary housing ordinance to promote the building of more affordable housing in the city, though when a vote could come is unclear.
Council members, during a May 3 study session, discussed various policies the city could adopt to both mandate and incentivize developers to include more below market-rate rental units and for-sale homes in their proposals.
The issue has long been discussed by council members, who’ve mostly said they acknowledge the growing need for housing within the city. Most council members who spoke with Colorado Community Media prior to the meeting said some form of an ordinance would likely pass.
“I think everyone on city council would agree there is a need for affordable housing,” said Councilmember At-Large Pam Grove in an email.
Molly Fitzpatrick, a member of Root Policy, a research firm that worked with the city in past years to identify housing needs, joined housing leaders Eric Veith, chair of the city’s housing task force, and Corey Reitz, executive director for South Metro Housing Options, in laying out their proposals to council.
Fitzpatrick said the proposed policies are not a “silver bullet” but still an important step in combating the affordable housing crisis sweeping the Denver metro region.
The strategy presented to council is two-pronged. It includes mandating a portion of new housing development be below market rate, though that portion would be small, and providing developers with incentives that would spur more affordable development.
What constitutes affordable is determined by the city’s median income level, which in 2020 was $76,375 according to Census data, though that number will change year after year.
Under the housing leaders’ proposal, people making 60% of the median income, about $44,000 for a single person per year, would be the main target for policies geared towards rental units. Those making 80%, about $55,000 per person annually, would be the main target for for-sale homes.
Those numbers were in 2021 dollars, according to Fitzpatrick, and have likely changed this year due to rising inflation. Still, it provides a benchmark to aim for in terms of who would be benefiting from more affordable housing.
Most new building of affordable housing would stem from incentives, with about 2% to 8% of new development mandated to be affordable, according to the proposal from housing leaders.
Incentives, which would only be unlocked if developers pledged more affordable housing, could include less parking and open space requirements as well as allowing for more stories of a development than originally envisioned.
Housing leaders estimated this could spur up to 50% of new developments to be affordable.
Most council members during the session voiced support for the two-pronged approach, though at least one council member had concerns about giving developers more rein to go denser.
“If we have all this multi-family housing, we’re losing our character,” said at-large council member Grove.
Grove voiced unease with developments going as high as seven stories thanks to incentives, though this is already allowed through the new Unified Land Use Code, which Grove voted for in October.
She also took issue with building more duplexes and other non-detached housing in traditionally single-family neighborhoods.
Mayor Kyle Schlachter disagreed.
“I don’t think that duplexes, triplexes diminish the character of a neighborhood at all, I actually think they add to it,” Schlachter said.
Veith, the housing task force chair, said these types of housing units are already integrated into the city and pose no threat to its character.
“There are duplexes and townhomes all throughout our neighborhoods and they all already blend it,” Veith said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gretchen Rydin said those housing types are “something that our community is desperately missing.” Being a renter herself, Rydin said she understands the economic squeeze many Littleton residents feel when it comes to the housing market.
Kelly Milliman, council member for Littleton’s District 4, pushed back on the narrative that diversity of housing, both in look and density, would threaten “community character.”
Quoting the 2018 Envision Report, Milliman said the “small town feel and sense of community can mean different things to different people,” and remains an “abstract concept.”
The term “community character” has been invoked several times by a handful of residents who have made clear to council their opposition to new developments, including housing.
Grove said council needs to be aware of this opposition as members ponder incentivizing developers. Grove referred to a glaring case of residents’ resistance, which came when a council vote to rezone the Aspen Grove shopping center for new homes was overturned by a citizen’s petition, which garnered thousands of signatures.
It forced the city to punt the rezoning plans to a city-wide vote scheduled for November. The election results could serve as a referendum on citizens’ appetite for development, especially higher-density housing.
“There is a group of very interested voters that don’t necessarily want high density … and I think we have to be aware of them,” Grove said.