For the last year, some residents of Boulder, Colorado, have been locked in a heated debate about whether the city should allow housing cooperatives. Advocates argue that cooperative housing counters gentrification, adding that electric, gas, and water consumption of co-op house residents is significantly less than the average resident. They also say that cooperative housing is a good way to create more affordable housing. Opponents contend that high-density housing co-ops — and the young people they tend to attract — will disrupt quiet, single-family neighborhoods.
Earlier this month, the Boulder city council voted 7-2 to allow for the licensing of 10 new co-ops every year, with possible exceptions for a few more. As the Boulder Daily Camera reports:

In low-density zoning districts co-ops will be capped at 12 occupants, while medium- and high-density zones will be capped at 15. In both, co-ops will be required to offer a minimum of 200 square feet per resident.

In 2015, an ongoing debate about cooperative housing in Boulder was brought to a head at a city council meeting, with discussion about an existing occupancy limit that prevents more than three or four unrelated people from sharing a single house. From that meeting, two groups mobilized around the issue: a group of cooperative supporters organized as the Boulder Community Housing Association and a group of homeowners opposed to support of cooperative housing in the city organized as the Boulder Neighborhood Alliance. Author and Boulder resident Nathan Schneider wrote in America Magazine:

The Boulder Community Housing Association "drafted ordinance proposals, held public events, helped elect some friendly city-council candidates, kept saturating council meetings, concocted social-media memes, saturated more meetings, collected public data into statistical models and graphs, wrote letters, got their friends to write letters, got me to write letters, invited council members over for visits, and sometimes rested—all the stuff you’re supposed to do in democracy."

The Boulder Neighborhood Alliance which Schneider describes as "intent on preserving their town more or less as-was forever, despite its actual residents," took out ads "demonizing the young" and tried to get some of the illegal co-ops evicted.
Despite the victory for the local housing co-op movement, the fight may not be over. Opponents of the ruling have proposed recalls or referendums.
Following the decision, councilman Matt Appelbaum offered the following statement about moving forward: "There will always be people who don't want a co-op next to them… I think if we can help ensure people in [co-ops] are playing by the rules, that's the best we can do."
Header photo of downtown Boulder by David via Flickr. Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter
Cat Johnson


Cat Johnson | |

Cat Johnson is a content strategist and teacher helping community builders create strong brands. A longtime writer, marketing pro and coworking leader, Cat is the founder of Coworking Convos and