Boulder, Colorado is the least affordable city in America that is not in California, Hawaii, or the New York City urban area. Boulder’s unaffordability is directly due to a combination of land-use policies, including a greenbelt that is nine times larger than the city itself and limits on the number of building permits that the city can issue each year.
A new report published by Colorado’s Independence Institute argues that these land-use policies violate the Fair Housing Act and must be repealed. Thanks to these policies, the black population of Boulder is declining despite the fact that the city’s overall population is growing. Boulder also has one of the lowest homeownership rates of any city in the country, and it is especially low for blacks, who, more than whites, are increasingly forced to live in high-density, multifamily housing instead of single-family homes.
Denver isn’t as unaffordable as Boulder, but an urban-growth boundary has made it less affordable than many other urban areas. This is also beginning to have an effect on black populations.
Under the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s disparate-impact rule, land-use laws that make housing expensive and force low-income minorities to leave are legally the equivalent of putting up a sign saying, “No blacks allowed.” The Supreme Court has endorsed this interpretation of the law, and while it is controversial, Boulder, Denver, and other cities that have made housing expensive are vulnerable to civil-rights lawsuits.
Although written for Colorado, this report is similar to a report previously published about Hawaii’s land-use policies by the Grassroots Institute and another about Oregon’s land-use laws published by the Cascade Policy Institute. All of these places are ripe for a challenge to local land-use laws on fair housing grounds.