Advocates want Littleton to address affordability

Coalition calls for policy changes to ensure affordable housing

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/2/21

A growing coalition is calling on residents to advocate for affordable housing in Littleton, with religious and civic leaders calling the problem a human rights issue. With just weeks to go before …

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Advocates want Littleton to address affordability

Coalition calls for policy changes to ensure affordable housing

Posted

A growing coalition is calling on residents to advocate for affordable housing in Littleton, with religious and civic leaders calling the problem a human rights issue.

With just weeks to go before the public comment period closes on an overhaul of Littleton’s land use codes, the time is ripe for residents to tell city council they want more equitable zoning policies, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin told a community meeting on June 28.

Melin was joined by Kathryn Roy, who heads Love INC., a Christian nonprofit that offers a variety of services to the needy, as well as Stephen Newhall, the assistant pastor of Littleton Christian Church, and Emily Dykes, who heads a nascent group called Vibrant Littleton that is advocating for affordable housing policies.

Housing affordability has come to bear on Littleton in a variety of ways, Melin said. The proportion of young families in Littleton is declining, according to a 2020 housing study, a factor that Littleton Public Schools has cited in the decision to close several elementary schools. Increasing homelessness is largely fueled by skyrocketing housing prices, according to a report presented to Tri-Cities Homelessness Initiative. The high cost of real estate topped the list of problems faced by business owners in a recent city survey.

Littleton’s single-family housing prices have climbed nearly 300% since 1999, while wages have increased only about 50% in the same time period, according to a Colorado Community Media analysis.

For Roy of Love INC., addressing housing affordability is a natural outcome of the group’s work to help people in need.

“Most of the calls we receive have to do with housing in some way,” Roy said. “We’re often working hard to help people avoid eviction, or we hear from people who spent all their money on rent and have none left for childcare of other needs. As Christians, loving our neighbors means wanting them to have secure housing.”

Newhall, the Littleton Christian Church assistant pastor, said affordable housing is part of his church’s mission to serve all people.

“We embrace the spiritual and social life of Christ,” Newhall said. “We want to empower all people to live and work and worship in this place. The church is an inclusive body, and all nations have access to the Kingdom of God, and we want our neighborhoods to reflect that.”

Meanwhile, Melin said, the city’s 2019 comprehensive plan, formulated after years of community meetings and surveys, defined “inclusivity” of all types of people as a primary Littleton value.

“Access to affordable and safe housing is an enumerated human right,” Melin said. “What’s it matter if we identify values and we don’t carry them out?”

Part of the solution could come from zoning, Melin said. The Universal Land Use Code (ULUC), the land use update scheduled to be ratified by city council in October, includes a framework for allowing ADUs — accessory dwelling units, sometimes called carriage houses — in certain areas of the city under certain design guidelines.

But “the politics don’t look great” on ADUs, Melin said. “People say it will disrupt community character, but people are what create character, not buildings ... it could be Sir Isaac Newton living next door, or it could just be someone’s aging parents.”

The ULUC also includes zoning that would allow mixed-use development along major corridors, with apartments located above retail and commercial uses.

“Mixed-use development is as close as there is to a silver bullet fixing this,” Melin said, because it also addresses the need to shore up Littleton’s sales tax base.

Dykes, who heads Vibrant Littleton, said studies show that walkable mixed-use neighborhoods like downtown Littleton generate by far the most sales tax revenue per acre of any land use type.

Reducing parking requirements for new development could maximize land use, Dykes said. Big box retail is typified by vast parking lots, she said, but those types of development tend to depreciate and are difficult to repurpose when big box stores close.

“Yes, we need parking, but do we need all that parking?” Dykes said.

Vibrant Littleton is led by Dykes, a communications specialist, and Eric Veith, a development associate at Gables Residential, a multifamily housing development firm. The group recently merged their Facebook page with the group Littleton Awake, a group founded in 2016 in part to advocate for the city’s since-disbanded urban renewal authority. Dykes declined to name the members of Littleton Awake who reached out to her, saying they preferred to stay anonymous.

For some in attendance at the community meeting, the proposals didn’t go far enough.

City council watchdog Pam Chadbourne said increasing density in the neighborhood bordering downtown has replaced small single-family homes with high-density multifamily dwellings that are often more expensive than the homes they replaced.

“We’ve done planning the wrong way,” Chadbourne said. “Developers will make the money, and we’ll be stuck with $700,000 units replacing affordable housing.”

Melin responded that relaxing zoning may only be a piece of the puzzle, with other approaches including offering incentives to developers to offer below-market-rate units, such as offering exemptions from certain design guidelines, height limits or setback rules — though he stressed that would only be possible if Littleton passed an inclusive housing ordinance, which is not currently being discussed by city council.

“Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the adequate,” Melin said. “This is an imperfect effort, but it will set us off on the correct footing.”

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