There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.Victor Hugo
The following are among the ideas I propose in “The Sweep Report 2.0: Housing from below in Broomfield, Colorado, USA“:
1/4 Percent Sales Tax | “1 for 100” | Accessory Dwelling Units | Client Ratings | Code Blue | Commonwealth | Day Shelter | Full Funding | Group Living & Homesharing | Homeless Memorial Day | Learning Parties | Linguistic Neighboring | Living Wage | Local Housing Vouchers | Mapping Parcels & New Development | Orphanage for Adults | Outreach Van | Petition | Sister City | Systems Change | Tenant Services Unit | Tiny Homes | Trauma-Informed Care | Vacant Units | Vested Neighborhood Housing | Voluntary Moratorium on Rental Increases | Zoning Review
1/4 Percent Sales Tax
In 1994, Broomfield voters prioritized local quality of life and the outdoors by passing a quarter-percent sales tax to expand and preserve our open spaces. It’s still in effect and still effectively serving its purpose.
Now is the time for Broomfield voters to prioritize another vital community need by passing a new, quarter-percent sales tax measure to fund ongoing temporary and transitional housing programs for our most vulnerable neighbors. They include more than 200 people currently experiencing homelessness and many severely “cost-burdened” households on the verge of homelessness, including single-parent families, veterans, retirees, people with disabilities and survivors of domestic violence.
But before such an urgent and necessary measure can go into effect, it needs to be passed by Broomfield voters. And for that to happen, it has to appear on the upcoming election ballot.
If you are a Broomfield voter, please consider signing this petition to the Broomfield City Council and the City & County of Broomfield to add a quarter-percent sales tax measure for housing stability to the Fall 2023 ballot. Signature goal: 600+.
For a thorough examination of local housing challenges and potential solutions to those challenges, see The Sweep Report 2.0: Housing from below in Broomfield, Colorado, USA. (Part 3, “Broomfield Tomorrow,” unpacks this small sales tax increase as well as a number of other proposals to help our community achieve full housing stability.)
Please share this petition with other eligible Broomfield voters! #WeAreBroomfield
“1 for 100”
If every Broomfield stakeholder contributed 1 percent of their annual income or revenue toward a local housing voucher program, our community could achieve full housing stability by 2025.
Broomfielders, please make your annual “1 for 100” contribution (whether one-time or monthly) to one of two Broomfield Community Foundation (BCF) funds:
- “Collaborative Emergency Sheltering,” for enhanced temporary and transitional housing efforts to begin next winter — GOAL: $3 million per year.
- “Affordable Housing,” for our new “housing voucher program,” likely to be administered by our newly independent housing authority once its financial infrastructure is up and running — GOAL: $47 million per year.
Accessory Dwelling Units
In October 2019, the Broomfield City Council passed an ordinance allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on residential properties in Broomfield. As of October 2021, a grand total of one accessory dwelling unit had been completed in compliance with the ordinance. Clearly, the policy needs an overhaul. Perhaps we should look to the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (WDRC) that is already piloting ways to make the design-finance-build process for ADUs more manageable and affordable.
A public rating system of local safety net agencies (including the Refuge, of course) would go a long way toward correcting power imbalances and promoting system change. Yelp and Amazon do it. Why not Broomfield social service agencies? Metrics do have their place.
Code Blue (year 4 & beyond)
It’s crucial we start preparing now for the winter of 2022-2023 by addressing a major flaw in Code Blue’s present structure — the community partners maintaining it (Broomfield FISH, The Refuge, various CCOB departments, Broomfield VOAD and a few others) all have other major, time-consuming roles, responsibilities and vocations other than running an emergency cold weather hotel voucher program. We’ve “built the plane as we’ve flown it” with spare parts, duct tape and humanitarian concern. Together, we’ve accomplished some great things since the “early days” of 2019, but our ad-hoc structure isn’t sustainable beyond this winter.
We have a crucial decision to make about the future of Code Blue and any ramped up temporary and transitional lodging effort here in Broomfield. Either:
- An existing organization with appropriate expertise expands into Broomfield (and two area agencies have already expressed interest), or,
- Local stakeholders create and fund a new agency to manage “Code Blue 2.0” or whatever it ends up being called.
Integrating Code Blue into the work of a dedicated entity is the natural and most appropriate next step for temporary and transitional lodging efforts in Broomfield. Such an integration promises to advance both the effort’s short-term effectiveness and long-term health and free up current Code Blue network partners to focus on what they and their agencies do best. FISH keeps families housed and feeds people.
The Refuge offers day-shelter hospitality, navigation help and basic resources. The CCOB facilitates benefit programs for qualified residents. Broomfield VOAD mobilizes local agencies and volunteers to respond to disasters.
It’s time to entrust the special endeavor that Code Blue has become to a community partner (or partners) who can give it the focus and energy it needs and deserves. No matter who ends up running things, its wraparound services should include live-in program liaisons, participant oversight and feedback, transportation assistance, case management, mental health counseling, benefits reviews, support groups,
resource navigation, strong partnerships with the local hospitality industry, workforce partnerships, and a small, temporary income allowance to help participants get back on their feet.
An annual “buy-out” of local hotel suites for on-demand use would offer enough flexibility and capacity to launch this proposed effort next winter. The outright purchase of an existing structure or the construction of a hotel-style facility offers a more sustainable option for the long term. Broomfield-adjacent partners with similar emergency and transitional lodging needs have already expressed an interest in pooling resources toward such a project.
The word “commonwealth” comes from the mid-15th-century words “commoun” and “welthe,” meaning “a community, whole body of people in a state.” From the 1550s on, it’s meant “any body of persons united by some common interest.” The trusty Online Etymology Dictionary notes commonwealth “forms a part of the official name of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico but has no special significance.”
I like the 1550s-on part, but I beg to differ with that final phrase, “has no special significance.” “Commonwealth” as a generic noun for a group of people may not be all that significant. If a particular group of people united by a common interest intentionally adopted “commonwealth” as an identity-value-ethic, however, they would suddenly, by definition, exclude no one.
“Commonwealth” breathes hope into the nostrils of the struggling and altruism into the lungs of the thriving. Safe, sound, affordable, accessible and sustainable “housing for all” looks right at home in a commonwealth. We could even say it’s preferred, past, present and future.
So, in the tradition of people and communities on the cusp of a special calling, let’s consider renaming ourselves “The Commonwealth of the City and County of Broomfield.” That sounds pretty cool to me — it connotes purpose, dignity and, yes, stability. Whether it’s official or unofficial, adopting “commonwealth” thoughtfully orients us toward housing stability for all.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a challenge like “housing stability for all by 2025,” not to mention such an unconventional and intangible proposal to begin meeting it. It’s easy to accept the sovereignty of the market-ruled status quo. It’s easy to say our housing crisis is too big, too complex, too nuanced, too expensive, too-whatever to truly and comprehensively address.
Except we all know great things don’t often happen without a willingness to wrestle with larger-than-life obstacles. Our nation didn’t become the first in human history to put people on the moon by doing what was easy. We embraced a common interest with confidence and took on a massive, complicated, expensive fantasy. We dreamed dreams, pooled resources, tapped our ingenuity and creativity, and made what had been thought to be impossible, possible.
Solving our ongoing housing crisis is the same sort of undertaking. It’s on a smaller scale, of course, but it’s more relevant than space travel to basic human needs, and it’s certainly no small thing to our neighbors who are struggling. They needed help yesterday, and they shouldn’t have to wait decades for the possibility of stable housing.
Our reality and the possibilities ahead are not unlike the Depression-era supports narrated by the inimitable U.S. historian David McCullough in the movie Seabiscuit, “They called it ‘relief,’ but it was a lot more than that. It had dozens of names: NRA, WPA, the CCC. But it really came down to just one thing. For the first time in a long time, someone cared. For the first time in a long time, you were no longer alone.”
The Refuge Café day shelter/navigation center that I co-manage fills an important niche for residents who are unhoused or otherwise in need in Broomfield and the North Metro area. We offer a safe place for
people to be without having to pay for anything or being asked to leave, and that includes guests who like “coworking” in the midst of our eclectic atmosphere. The thing is we only have enough people power, resources and sponsors to open three days a week, mostly during daytime hours. We really need to be open six or seven days a week with some evening hours for residents who can’t visit during the day.
Local agencies need to stop telling our donors, grantors and wider community how great they are to provide us with Band-Aids when we know the victim at our door needs an organ transplant and a safer highway. We need to stop settling and start pursuing resources commensurate to the level of actual and projected housing-related needs in our community. We need to challenge decision-makers, who enjoy financial security and housing stability themselves, when they piously parrot statements like, “That’s just not in the budget” or “Budgets aren’t as fungible as they seem” or “We choose to focus on other priorities.” Thousands of Broomfielders are suffering from housing instability right now. It’s time to consign lip service, half-measures and deference to gradualism in the form of convenient financial and social doctrines to the past where they belong.
Group Living and Homesharing
Nearby cities in need of new affordable housing solutions have begun to consider loosening restrictions on the number of unrelated people allowed to live in the same residence. Denver already permits up to five unrelated residents in one single-family home. An attempt to expand Boulder’s occupancy limits narrowly failed last November. Organizations like Sunshine Home Share take a different approach to the
same affordability challenge, connecting vetted applicants with homeowners in need of extra income or help with daily tasks.
Homeless Memorial Day
Two handfuls of Broomfielders gathered outside Holy Comforter Episcopal Church on Dec. 23, 2021, for a second-annual remembrance of local residents who died while unhoused during the preceding calendar year. Its timing closely coincided with National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held every year on the shortest day of the year. Vigils were also held in Denver, Boulder, Longmont and Colorado Springs. Please mark your calendars for our third annual vigil on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, and check back at this blog for details on the exact time and location. Hopefully, more of us will attend in 2022, and, more importantly, our “Broomfield Four” will remain only four at next winter’s vigil.
The Broomfield Housing Opportunity Coalition (BHOC) fostered community conversations toward “Accessible, Available, Diverse” housing for several years, but unfortunately, COVID sapped BHOC’s momentum and infrastructure to the point where it now needs an infusion of energy and a re-activated website. Thankfully, later this spring, are leader-advocates will begin facilitating monthly all-stakeholder housing-related “learning parties” featuring local challenges, lived-experience testimonials and tangible action steps. (Check back here for details.) Learning party topics could include:
“The Scarlet Letters of Modern Housing”
“Fungible Budgets: A Guide for How Cities, Businesses and Households Can Adjust or Add Line Items to Meet Community Needs”
“In the Zone: How Zoning Shapes Local Housing”
“Our Pipes Just Broke, Can You Get Them Fixed, Like, Today?: A Week in the Life of a Local Landlord”
“Life in My Mobile Home Park…Since Local Regulations Passed”
“Watch Your Language: Deconstructing (and Reconstructing) our Medieval Housing Vocabulary”
“What’s My Level of NIMBYism? Measuring Our Tolerance for Affordable Housing”
“’9-1-1, What is Your Emergency?’ ‘Yeah, there’s a homeless person on my walking trail…’ — What not to do (and what to do) when you encounter a resident who appears to be unhoused”
“Never Been Done…But Might Be Worth Trying: A Night of Community Brainstorming”
The linguistic roots of this section’s title reflect our daily struggles to survive, and having survived, to thrive: where we maintain a residence, how much it costs to live there, how much we earn to live there, how our well-being affects the way we live there (and vice versa), and what efforts we undertake to improve ourselves, our world and our ability to make a living there.
Words shape worlds, as the first paragraphs of the book of Genesis, the last paragraphs of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and spiritual leaders like Abraham Joshua Heschel attest, which is why reshaping our everyday grammar is no small step toward reimagining Broomfield housing from below. Consider the following three ways we can linguistically neighbor one another:
- Let adjectives be adjectives, and let nouns be nouns. The words “wealthy,” “poor” and “homeless” are adjectives. They describe but do not represent people, places or things. When we convert them into nouns that do, they tend to de-substantiate and dehumanize the image-of-God-bearing people to whom they refer. A person’s financial means or housing status has no bearing on their essential humanity.
- Let “I-You” replace “I-It”. About a hundred years ago, the Austrian-Jewish-Israeli philosopher Martin Buber proposed that true meaning in life comes through relationships of recognition and respect — “I-Thou” or “I-You” ones with the Divine and with each other, and “I-It” experiences of the world around us. Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., noted in his final speech before his assassination, how “I-It” thinking applied to interpersonal and inter-community relationships can objectify injured victims on the side of life’s proverbial road. But like the Good Samaritan, he exhorted us to instead “project the ‘I’ into the ‘Thou’” by seeing ourselves in the guise of our vulnerable neighbor. The only thing as potentially dehumanizing as an adjective turned into a noun, then, is an adjective turned into a noun accompanied by an objectifying article or determinative, as in “the wealthy,” “the poor” or “the homeless.”
- Let people be people first. Beneath our occupations and bank balances and residences and sizes and genders and complexions and eye color, we 74,112-and-counting Broomfielders are all human beings. Our individual and collective human dignity should always come first. People-first language
affirms both the humanity of those with whom we are in conversation and the humanity of those who routinely have little say in decisions affecting their own lives and livelihoods. Even if we can’t yet acknowledge the basic lesson of the Good Samaritan, even if we can’t call those who are battered,
naked and unconscious on the side of the road our “neighbors,” we can at least acknowledge, before anything else, that they are people — “people with material wealth” or “people without material wealth” and “people who are unhoused” or “people experiencing homelessness.” They are not problems to be solved. They are not their circumstances. They’re people with names and faces, memories and dreams, families and friends, traumas and stories.
Living wages would give local households more disposable income, greater stability and promote healthier lifestyles. Both the 14 percent of Broomfielders who live and work here, and the 86 percent who live here but work elsewhere would benefit, because employers outside of Broomfield would surely take note. Who knows? Living wage synergy could actually start trending regionally, giving metro-area employers a competitive advantage over other regions and eliminating the conditions that lead to costly worker strikes.
Precedents already point in this direction. Some U.S. employers, including locally headquartered Vail Resorts, have already responded to income disparities on their own by preemptively raising their employees’ hourly pay. A Seattle-based company even enacted a $70,000 per year minimum wage for its
Living wages aren’t cheap. Although “traditional” benefits like health insurance and 401k’s aren’t on the table here, a voluntary wage increase alone could still cost-burden some local employers. Let’s say Acme Broomfield has 50 minimum-wage workers who each log 50 hours a week. It would cost $193,200 a year for Acme to voluntarily increase its lowest-paid workers’ wages by just $1.61 per hour. Ways for-profit businesses, city departments and non-profit organizations that employ people could make living wages work by Jan. 1, 2023, include:
- Starting a “Broomfield Living Wage Network.” Members publicly pledge to pay living wages to all their employees or otherwise ensure their employees earn living wages without excessive hardship (as in, they work less than a maximum agreed-upon number of hours per week). Individual employees who don’t need or want their living wage increase have the option of voluntarily deferring it back to the organization for another coworker.
- Members receive encouragement from their peers and recognition from the community. They adorn their storefronts and websites with badge decals that read, “Proud member of the Broomfield Living Wage Network.”
- Each member pays annual dues based on its number of employees, say, $1,000 for organizations with 1-50 employees; $5,000 for 50-100; $10,000 for 100-500; $25,000 for 500 or more. Assuming a 50-40-9-1-percent distribution among the above groups, full buy-in, and 2,285 Broomfield employer establishments, annual dues alone would total more than $10 million per year.
- Finding viable ways to increase wages besides layoffs, hour reductions or simply raising consumer-facing prices to fund the entire increase. The point here isn’t unnecessary inflation.
- Developing a rating system for how to equitably distribute dues-funded, living-wage grants to employers who most need assistance, minus, say, 5 percent for network administration. Perhaps dues and other living wage contributions could live in the Broomfield Community Foundation/Broomfield Chamber of Commerce Small Business Fund. Revenue-healthy employers could make additional contributions to their struggling (non-competitor) counterparts, and both public and anonymous donations would be accepted at any time.
- Diverting another percentage point or two from annual executive team bonuses (in addition to annual “1 for 100” contributions). The contributions of executives who live in Broomfield but work elsewhere would be more than welcome, as well!
- Employers with staff used to bi-vocational side hustles publicly posting the ways their team members earn a living wage. At The Refuge, for example, two of my teammates earn regular income outside their small Refuge stipends. Other teammates of mine get paid by grant funds received from local partners like the Broomfield Workforce Center and the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative. We’re not all earning a living wage, though, so we’re among Broomfield employers that have a lot of work to do in this area!
- Indexing voluntary wage increases to the updated Self Sufficiency Standard for Broomfield County, set to be released this spring. Our lowest hourly self-sufficiency wage from the 2018 standard, for a single adult working eight hours a day for 22 days each month, was $14.17. The standard adjusts according to household size, the number of working adults in a household, and the ages of any children in a household.
Local Housing Vouchers
In other counties, although they often come with many restrictions and long waiting lists, Housing Choice or Section 8 vouchers offer a significant form of housing relief for qualified families and individuals. For comparison, in Adams County, Maiker Housing Partners is able to provide housing vouchers for 1 of every 5 eligible applicants with its almost $19 million in annual federal funds, according to Maiker’s executive director Peter LiFari.
Our unique history has severely limited our supply of housing vouchers, leaving almost all of our nearly 5,000 moderately and severely cost-burdened households without ready housing stabilization assistance. We could apply for special state funding for vouchers, but there’s no guarantee our application would be accepted.
Rather than wait, likely in vain, for our state or federal governments to fill our gap for us, I propose we create and customize our very own housing voucher program right here in Broomfield. Sometimes, when none are available or likely to become available it really is necessary to recreate the wheel. This one could very well roll thousands of local individuals and families toward healthier financial margins in the form of paying no more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
This brand-new housing voucher program could be administered by our brand-new (or at least newly independent) housing authority. Here’s how it could work. (I’m just making up a name and an acronym to make it sound official.)
The Broomfield Housing Stability Voucher (HSV) Program:
- Recruits and employs a stellar team commensurate to this task. (No understaffing!)
- Puts housing-unstable residents first in its decision-making and system design.
- Minimizes red tape.
- Researches and adapts best practices for our local context.
- Adopts incentives for local landlords to participate and to recruit their fellow landlords to apply and participate.
- Arranges for the inspection of prospective housing units — condos, townhomes, apartment buildings, duplexes and single-family structures. Once deemed safe-and-sound-for-habitation, they become eligible for immediate enrollment in the voucher program.
- Streamlines an easy-to-navigate, multi-lingual voucher eligibility, application, approval, payment and oversight process.
- Adopts minimal and non-burdensome criteria for local recipients to participate for as long as needed.
- Adopts incentives for local recipients to become former recipients (perhaps through grants for job training, re-training, advanced trade certifications and degrees, etc.).
- Makes vouchers “tenant-based,” meaning they “belong” to qualifying Broomfielders as long as they maintain their qualifying relationship with our community. While the vast majority of those suffering from housing instability reside in the less than 120 percent AMI segments of our housing spectrum, anyone who lives, works, goes to school or otherwise maintains strong connections here, while navigating demonstrable housing instability even temporarily, is eligible for a voucher.
- Makes vouchers locally “portable,” meaning they transfer anywhere recipients move within (the Commonwealth of) the City and County of Broomfield.
- Makes vouchers voluntary, meaning once-qualified households can defer their benefit without losing their place in the program. If voucher funds aren’t needed, they go back into the program-fund’s pot. If their circumstances change, recipients can submit whatever documentation is necessary and reactivate their voucher.
- “Adjusts” vouchers based on a household’s cost-burden (30-50%, 50%+) and “indexes” the specific amount of a recipient’s benefit to Broomfield County’s Self-Sufficiency Standard. (The Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s updated, 2021 Standard and Report will be published later this spring.) In other words, the assistance available to local households depends on their corresponding need and income, as represented by the above indicators and their current location on our housing spectrum, whether affordable, attainable, workforce or market-rate. Let’s say the main breadwinner of the Garcia family of six gets downsized and, at least in the short term, works a lower-paying job. The Garcias had been paying 30 percent of their income on housing, but now they’re paying 52 percent. They’ve also dropped from 60 percent AMI to 38 percent. The Garcias would necessarily receive a greater monthly “voucher,” “benefit,” “stipend,” “allowance,” or whatever we want to call it, to get them back to paying 30 percent of their income on housing than the Taylors, a couple who earn 120 percent AMI, but devote 40 percent of their income toward housing.
- Bases its budget on the current and projected numbers of moderate and severely cost-burdened households in Broomfield — as of now, it’s 5,000.
- Budgets to disburse an average of $750 per month to local landlords on behalf of recipient households, but understands some households will need more and some will need less than that amount.
- Pledges never, repeat never, to maintain a waiting list or conduct a housing lottery. If additional vouchers become needed, additional vouchers become funded.
- Remember, the ultimate goal of all this is to achieve “functional stability,” which I’m modeling after Built-For-Zero’s “functional zero” milestone. “Functional zero” means a community has measurably ended homelessness and is sustaining that end.
- “Functional stability,” then, means 100 percent of our community becomes stably housed and stays that way.
- By issuing vouchers based on our actual, real-time need, and “repurposing” 5,000 already diverse housing units or roughly 17 percent of our existing inventory, our community could effectively approach functional stability in the next few years, not in the next few decades. Because it will certainly take time to properly and fully fund, staff and structure things, we set our sights on achieving functional stability (or darn near!) by Jan. 1, 2025.
Mapping Parcels & New Developments
Before new affordable housing developments can be built in Broomfield, appropriate land needs to be (re-)zoned, repurposed, acquired or donated. Except there’s not much available land that’s accessible to amenities and transportation in central Broomfield. I’ve compiled a list of possible parcels for future infill projects, but it needs to be vetted and expanded by people who know local real estate.
Orphanage for Adults
My colleague Kathy Escobar has long dreamed of converting a small (yet-to-be) donated apartment building or old motel into a community for adults “orphaned by life.” It would feature live-in staff-hosts, regular cleaning services, shared meals and kitchen space, and “deep affordability,” meaning it would be tailored to people earning less than 40 percent AMI. Repurposed dwellings and project-based, deed-restricted development offer viable housing solutions for other “hard-to-house” residents, such as individuals with IDD people with felonies on their records.
Last summer, local partners created the new Broomfield Cares Outreach Van program. (Shoutout to Khari Hunt, Broomfield’s deputy director of Human Services, for the idea!) Hubbed out of The Refuge, volunteer advocates use a borrowed 15-passenger van from Joyful Journeys Thrift Store to visit local unhoused residents, learn about their circumstances and offer supplies and referrals to appropriate services.
With more resources, this outreach effort could complement the existing BCORE co-responder partnership between the Bromfield Police Department and Community Reach mental health clinicians, and relieve at least some of the burden on the BPD and other city staff tasked with responding to calls about “the homeless.” Similar programs have seen success in Aurora and Denver.
If you’re a Broomfield voter, please “sign” this online petition to add a sales tax measure to our upcoming election ballot. Number of signatures needed: at least 600.) Our open spaces add all kinds of intrinsic and extrinsic value to our community, and so will greater housing stability for our most vulnerable local households.
A New Broomfield Sister City
In my introduction, I listed Broomfield’s Sister Cities relationship with Ueda, Japan, as a both-and example of our community at its best. It’s a particularly poignant one because four generations ago our nation was at war with Japan, and 7,500 Japanese-descended people were being forcibly imprisoned at the Granada Relocation Center (aka Camp Amache) in southeastern Colorado.
I’m proud of Broomfield’s 20-year partnership with Ueda, and inspired by the City of Longmont’s more recent Sister City agreement with the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming. I’m so inspired, in fact, that I believe it’s time for Broomfield to seek a new (and of course, additional) Sister Cities relationship with the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. Such an accord would tie us to further-distant generations of our history (and our housing history), and set us on a path of friendship with other former “enemies.” (Shoutout to my fellow members of Confluence, a Refuge-hubbed group advocating for this new partnership to happen!)
We’ve been in the midst of hostilities long enough — settlers against Indigenous nations, “whites” against “non-whites,” upstream states against downstream states, landlords against tenants, housed residents against unhoused residents, economically thriving against economically struggling. It’s past time to try redemptive reciprocity and life-affirming mutuality on a community-wide scale.
Paul Batalden, senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), famously said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” When people become the objects of systems instead of the subjects for whom systems (and policies and practices) exist, suffering inevitably results, and always from the bottom-up. What we call “human service systems,” in fact, tend to carefully limit and control interpersonal contacts and to erect physical, professional and psychological barriers that insulate “providers” from “clients.” People seeking various forms of help are routinely made to feel they are “less than,” and people administering various forms of assistance are misled into believing they are “more than.” Bad things happen when people stop counting and become numbers. People in need are presumed guilty until they prove themselves innocent. “Cost per person” gains an outsized influence. A sort of top-down suspicion seeps in like bentonite and cracks everything, forcing people in need to navigate a hellscape of inflexible and disincentivizing eligibility criteria, arcane technicalities and documentation requirements to access what help is available. It’s time to re-emphasize the “human” in the “human service system,” so that people, not policies and procedures and structures, come first.
Tenant Services Unit
Among other things, the CCOB’s Code Compliance unit monitors and enforces the safe and proper modifications of homes. BPD’s three-officer Animal Services Unit enforces laws that protect the health and safety of the general public and protect pets “from cruel treatment, neglect, and injury.” No current units of our local government, however, enforce laws protecting the living conditions of human tenants or
their treatment by landlords. Here in Broomfield, and certainly beyond, a lack of effective oversight and enforcement of housing ordinances continues to plague many renters, from mobile home parks to multi-family housing complexes to single-family homes. Ombuds offer a potential solution. The CCOB recently proposed hiring one, but our community of 74,112-and-counting needs at least three. Whether the CCOB creates a new “Tenant Services Unit” charged with investigating complaints and enforcing housing-related laws or repurposes some other entity for that purpose, on-the-ground regulation must happen. Otherwise, law-breaking landlords will continue ignoring health conditions and maintenance requests, pressuring tenants to sign new leases, making threats or retaliating against outspoken residents, and issuing eviction notices with incorrect court dates and times (with the result that tenants appear after they have been legally evicted), all with impunity.
The non-profit Veterans Community Project, with the help of the City of Longmont and HMS Development, is building a 26-unit tiny home community on two acres of land in Longmont. A similar effort could literally end veteran homelessness in Broomfield and then some.
The manner in which housing and other basic-needs supports are provided is as crucial as the actual supports themselves. A conscious commitment to and concerted integration of the principles of trauma-informed care — safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment — could humanize our often sterile and impersonal social safety net systems and prevent households in need from being constantly retraumatized. That would mean (re-)training for local agency board members, staff, volunteers and advocates, alike.
According to Census redistricting data, 1,616 of Broomfield’s 31,298 housing units were vacant in 2020. I’m not aware of an existing list of those units, but it would be good to have because some property owners may be willing to add their vacant units to our local hotel voucher inventory. Maybe a vacation-home rental business like Vrbo and Airbnb would be willing to explore transitional housing options benefitting homeowners needing income and households needing stability. Some vacant units in Boulder
County have been utilized during Marshall Fire recovery efforts.
Vested Neighborhood Housing
This deeply affordable housing idea is the brainchild of my friend and Refuge teammate Billy Bear Jarrett. It’s been fine-tuned with the help of our engineer friend Brett Guarrero. All it needs is enough community partners and volunteers to make it a reality.
This deeply affordable housing idea is the brainchild of my friend and Refuge teammate Billy Bear Jarrett. It’s been fine-tuned with the help of our engineer friend Brett Guarrero. All it needs is enough community partners and volunteers to make it a reality.
Voluntary Moratorium on Rental Increases
While Broomfield employers (hopefully) work toward paying living wages and our new housing voucher program (hopefully) gets up and running, local landlords could ease the cost burden on local households by adopting a voluntary moratorium on rent increases through the end of 2024.
Now that our inclusionary housing and independent housing authority are in effect, it’s time for a comprehensive review of current Broomfield codes and zoning requirements. Amending or overturning unhelpful land use regulations or creating new ones could promote housing stability.