Adam Swetlik

Serving on Boulder’s Housing Advisory Board and leading it as Chair, I have learned about the city’s housing challenges in depth. I have engaged with residents, staff and Council on a wide range of housing issues. This first-hand knowledge of the obstacles and the array of solutions will make me an effective city council member.

  • I will prioritize preserving “market” affordable housing stock and accessing developer, corporate and government funds to pay for new affordable housing. I believe affordable housing solutions are not an outcome of market-driven construction of high density residential buildings. Densification as a means to achieve affordable housing has not proven to be successful in cities with high job growth like San Francisco and New York. Rather, it often has exacerbated the lack of affordability. Rapidly rising housing prices and rental rates in Boulder are changing the demographics of the city, driving out the middle class and lower-income residents. People are working in excess of 60 hours to pay for basic needs. I will work to change this.
  • For 10 years I was a renter in Boulder, before I was able to save enough money to buy a one-bedroom condo. Over 50% of Boulder residents are renters. We must pay equal attention to their needs, protecting them from the hardships inflicted by large-scale rental operations and work towards creating more permanently affordable rentals for a range of income levels. We deserve a community of people who truly love Boulder, not just those who can afford it.
  • In order to reach Boulder’s newly adopted goal of 15% permanently affordable housing by 2035, we will need to use a variety of tools: tapping into new development, re-designating some existing housing, and requiring large corporations to do their share in contributing to employee housing. One of the first actions the new Council takes should be to explore expanding the inclusionary housing minimums to 10% for middle income households and 25% for low income households. We should also aim to expand programs like the down-payment assistance program to help first-time home buyers and convert existing housing stock into deed-restricted permanently affordable homes. Finally, we should work towards purchasing the rights of first-refusal on aging condominiums and apartment buildings that may be earmarked for redevelopment and, ultimately, massive price increases. By purchasing these properties, the City can convert them to permanent affordability, preventing units from becoming high-end apartments and averting a spike in property taxes on surrounding neighbors.
  • One of Council’s responsibilities is to fight for state-level changes, such as increasing the number of tax credits allocated for affordable housing. Also we can advocate to tackle the aspects of our tax code that prevent deed transfer taxes upon the sale of real estate. This type of tax has multiple benefits. This type of tax is very progressive as it only taxes gains after a sale is made and could help fund more permanently affordable housing. Also, deed transfer taxes help curb speculative buying of real estate.

Although many institutions, such as universities and local governments, claim to embrace public engagement, current social research now indicates that, while some entities truly embrace public engagement, other entities still have a long way to go. The two most obvious concerns about engagement in Boulder are 1) the agenda is controlled by the institution with no opportunity for the public to add to the agenda; and 2) the options are set by developers and/or staff before the public is engaged. While Boulder has made some strides in public engagement, I support a much more vigorous effort.

  • I would like the new City Council to direct all appropriate boards to conduct more public engagement. This includes re-convening all available members of the PPWG (Public Participation Working Group) to review City progress and make suggestions. Direct engagement with residents most impacted by policy decisions is a crucial way to improve trust and get genuine feedback, enabling city boards to make informed recommendations to City Council. Serving on Boulder’s Housing Advisory Board, I’ve sat on the sole permanent committee, the Engagement Committee. Our goal is to improve the conversations about housing issues with residents and staff so that we can find solution-oriented ideas. We’ve held roundtable listening sessions with stakeholders on the topics of “The Affordable Housing Experience” and “How to Raise Money for Affordable Housing.” The community members who participated are rarely heard from; they brought unique knowledge and solutions that may otherwise have been overlooked.
  • All major projects within the city should start with an engagement process. For too long residents of Boulder have been presented with almost a “done deal” in the approval of large projects, given a chance only to to tweak development that impacts many aspects of their lives. This makes for a frustrating process, resulting in angry neighborhoods and developers who can’t move projects forward. We need to change the process so that neighborhoods are partners in projects from the original proposal and site review, shaping projects to benefit the community and enhance their physical surroundings. We can avoid hours-long public comment periods at Council meetings if residents are involved with a project from its inception.
  • Council should hold open-comment periods for specific groups in our City that are often under-heard and under-represented. Too often problems simply do not come to light until they grow out of control, requiring more drastic action than if they had been made known earlier. Hearing stories from affordable housing residents, manufactured housing residents, people of color, renters, co-op and co-housing residents, students, LBGTQIA+ individuals, people with special needs, parents of young children, retirees, and young people could provide perspective on issues and new ways of thinking that would better our city for everyone.

While I’ve observed that City staff and Council generally work hard and care about Boulder, the volume of work has grown to become overwhelming. Council members can hardly be expected to absorb the important and minute details of the 500+ pages that they need to read each week in preparation for meetings and votes on critical issues. The current setup leaves them little option but to follow the direction of staff, rather than the other way around. It is time to look at “the big picture” to determine if changes should be made to basic meeting practices. I believe that there are many ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Council. First, I will engage the community and staff members and ask what changes they recommend. I would start with a questionnaire to be answered anonymously by each staff member. Meanwhile, I would request a statistically valid survey of residents, with questions developed by both staff and community members who represent diverse views.

  • It may be time to start the discussion about what type of city government we want. Is it time to consider a salaried Mayor who is elected by popular vote? Is it time to consider that all Council members be salaried so that more citizens of different backgrounds can participate? Is it time to consider electing some Council members by District and the rest at-large? Is it time to consider the idea of hiring personal assistants for council members to conduct independent research, improve communication with constituents, liaison with city staff and help with organizational tasks to free the council member’s time?
  • We all know that there have been situations in the recent past where City staff exceeded their authority and acted without Council approval. That practice should be stopped in no uncertain terms. Additionally, Council needs to direct staff more clearly. Rather than reacting to options that staff provides, Council needs to ensure that staff can demonstrate meaningful public input before they even begin to develop options. Outreach and surveying of the residents most impacted should be done prior to project options being created. This would save significant time and trouble for Council, staff and the community.

Part of the uniqueness of Boulder is its small-city feel. Many residents choose to live here because of the distinctive neighborhoods and mixed housing types. Height limits within Boulder and open space surrounding the city are two aspects that make Boulder more attractive than other cities in Colorado and our country. The height limit enriches residents, workers and visitors with views, sunlight and a friendly scale. Protection of open space prevents suburban sprawl. These traits need to be maintained.

  • Height limits and zoning are the last tools we have when it comes to gaining permanent housing affordability from existing spaces. Simply densifying without getting much higher rates of permanent affordability will not work to create more affordable housing and keep Area Median Incomes lower. Only through enhanced requirements for permanent affordability will we be able to increase our affordable housing stock. All up-zoning or height variances need to provide high levels of permanent affordable housing to make sure we’re effectively addressing our housing issues. These must go well beyond our current 25% requirement for inclusionary housing, because once those height or zoning changes are in place, the chance to capture more permanently affordable housing will no longer exist. There is a way to accomplish this with neighborhood buy-in.
  • The single biggest different that Council can make towards thoughtful growth and development is to reprioritize sub-community planning. Currently, the City has an excellent staff member in Kathleen King who is developing a sound plan for East Boulder. She needs to have the resources allocated to her to address sub-community planning across the City simultaneously and immediately. This process has gone on for far too long. Certainly, each neighborhood should be expected to contribute to affordable housing (or to demonstrate that they already offer their fair share), but the process should proceed all at once. By addressing sub-community planning as the first priority, the constant struggle between neighborhoods and developers will be ameliorated. This priority will provide certainty to neighbors, developers, the City, and future residents.
  • Currently the abundance of market rate and luxury housing that gets built attracts people of higher incomes, thus raising our Area Median Income. The rents for our permanently affordable housing residents are directly tied to AMI. This means that whenever we build more housing that caters to people of a higher income, those who can least afford it experience rising rents as a result of the higher AMI. Only by capturing a much greater portion of each development for permanently affordable housing can we buck this trend and stabilize AMI.
  • Boulder needs to shift its focus away from attracting large corporations and make sure our small business community is well supported. While we have taken major steps to make business pay its own way with commercial linkage fees and other impact fees,more can be done to make sure large businesses are paying for their impacts. Potential solutions to right this imbalance include a head tax on corporations with over 100 employees in Boulder, funding the affordable housing program and improvements to our transportation infrastructure.
  • Rising rents on small business spaces have created the need for permanently affordable or subsidized commercial space. These spaces are necessary to keep Boulder’s entrepreneurial spirit alive. We have all seen the dozens of small business that were operating for decades close down because of increased rents for retail space. Unless we provide the help necessary, our city won’t have a place for local business.

Our Open Space program is one of the cornerstones of Boulder. We invested heavily as a community to make the land around us suitable for recreation and conservation. I believe it is extremely important to take the steps necessary to keep Open Space maintained for both Boulder’s residents and our visitors. We have reached the point where we can switch our resources from acquisition to maintenance.

  • Open Space now has 40 million dollars in deferred maintenance costs and will soon lose a large source of funding with the expiration of one of our sales taxes. Funding Open Space with a dedicated sales tax is absolutely in the best interest of Boulderites. Even if we don’t set foot on open space land, we still enjoy the benefits of the beautiful views and natural habitats that connect us with the environment.
  • We need to put a temporary hold on further adaptation of Open Space land for recreation. With a major budget shortfall, it makes no sense to increase the number of trails and routes. We also need to be aware of balancing the natural environments within these lands and not over-recreate at the expense of the delicate ecosystems that can’t be replaced.
  • No Open Space lands should be used for commercial or residential development. We must hold on to the investment we have made in our natural environment, and keep the commercialization of the land from occurring.

Transportation and housing are linked as foundational pieces of how a city both functions and feels. We must make alternative modes of transportation both accessible and safe for all neighborhoods in our community, so that we can reduce the number of vehicles on the roads to help reach our climate goals.

  • Boulder needs to work towards an alternative transportation system. Issues to address include complaints about unreasonable prices for short trips, the ongoing battle over the Ecopass system (with RTD pushing for reductions while environmentally conscious residents and businesses push for expansion), and a crisis over intercity options. While this is an ambitious goal, it holds the promise of solving some of the most acute environmental and social problems we face.
  • Boulder must partner with surrounding cities to hold RTD accountable for delaying the promised FasTracks rail system. We need alternative modes of transportation, and have been taxed to have rail provided for us since 2004 with no progress. We need council members who will either follow through to hold RTD accountable or take action so we stop paying for a service we are not receiving. The transportation status quo is failing, and we need every dollar we can get to address our issues.
  • An estimated 65,000 workers and students travel into Boulder on a daily basis. The number of incoming vehicles is a concern for both the environment and public safety. Fewer cars on the roads result in fewer emissions and fewer accidents. In the short term, the city should develop solutions such as providing incentives for carpooling and subsidies for bus travel. If we can incentivize enough people to stay out of their vehicles, we can reduce our accidents, emissions, and road maintenance costs.
  • When major changes are made in neighborhoods that cause an influx of traffic it is worth considering those neighborhoods for parking programs. While getting cars off the road needs to be a top priority for our transportation future, allowing accessible parking for those who need it can’t be overlooked.