Englewood considers increasing housing density to tackle affordability issues

Some residents, council members raise concerns

Tayler Shaw
Posted 2/27/23

As Englewood tackles housing affordability issues, tension has risen between some residents and city council members regarding a potential rezoning the council is considering that would increase …

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Englewood considers increasing housing density to tackle affordability issues

Some residents, council members raise concerns


As Englewood tackles housing affordability issues, tension has risen between some residents and city council members regarding a potential rezoning the council is considering that would increase housing density in traditionally single-family residential areas.

Rezoning refers to the process of changing what types of development and property uses are permitted in certain sections, or zone districts, of the city. Englewood’s zoning rules are listed in the city’s Unified Development Code.

Currently underway is a project called “CodeNext,” which is an effort to update Englewood’s development code. 

One of the ideas the council is considering as part of CodeNext is allowing for two-to-four-unit buildings — also referred to as duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes — to be built on some larger residential lots that exist within the city’s R-1 zone districts, as long as at least one of the units is more affordable. 

R-1 zone districts represent areas that have residential one-dwelling units, also known as single-family homes. According to the city’s code of ordinances, there are three types of R-1 zone districts: 

  • R-1-A, which means the properties typically have a larger lot size.
  • R-1-B, which typically represents a medium lot size.
  • R-1-C, which typically represents a smaller lot size. 

The possibility of allowing two-to-four-unit buildings to be built on certain lots in R-1-A, R-1-B and/or R-1-C zone districts — and what the requirements should be for those instances — was something the city council discussed during a Jan. 23 meeting.  

Some residents attended the Feb. 6 and Feb. 21 city council meetings to voice their issues with the proposal, raising concerns such as whether increased density will worsen parking and the city’s services, how the buildings may impact the property value of nearby homes, and whether the changes would actually result in more affordable housing options. 

“The zoning change proponents … cite the need for affordable housing, and I think we can all agree on that need. What we don’t agree on is how to get there,” said Englewood resident Stephanie Brooks during the Feb. 21 meeting.

Behind her was a large crowd of people, many of whom held signs in opposition to the potential rezoning. 

“I don’t think that increasing density there is going to help with affordable housing,” said Carson Green, a resident who said he lives in an R-1 zone district. 

Responding to the public comments, Councilmember Joe Anderson said the council is still in the process of figuring out details of CodeNext and public feedback is important.

“We’re still in the development stage of this idea. So, we have a sense that what we’re talking about — we have a general consensus on council. There’s at least four of us that support something along these lines with corner lots and large lots allowing for increased development up to fourplexes for — as long as one unit is required to be affordable at the 80% AMI (area median income) level,” Anderson said. 

The median household income in Englewood grew from $59,774 in 2019 to $66,399 in 2020, representing an 11.1% increase, according to Data USA. In this case, 80% of the area median income would be roughly $53,119. 

“I understand a lot of you are interested in affordable housing. You want affordable housing. I do hear some of you maybe aren’t interested in development at all — to me that’s not a, you know, that’s (a) non-starter for the conversation. But for those of you who want to help address the affordable housing crisis that we have, and really it is a crisis, we do want to hear your ideas on that,” Anderson said. 

“This is one piece of that puzzle. The niche that this fits in is in the missing middle housing, so the idea behind this is that we need more housing of all types, across the entire board,” he said, prompting a loud echo of “No’s” from the crowd. 

“You are not hearing us,” someone shouted from the crowd, as Mayor Pro Tem Steven Ward called for order in the room. 

“The reality is change is already here in Englewood. Household sizes are much smaller than they used to be, demographics of Englewood have changed dramatically in the last 10 years, prices have gone up significantly … so we already have change. And this is a modest change,” Anderson said, as people from the crowd voiced disagreement. 

“We’re allowing for increased multifamily housing in certain areas of R-1 and I think that’s an important piece, this component. I recognize you disagree and look forward to the continued conversation,” he said.

Councilmember Rita Russell, who has previously raised concerns about the rezoning idea, thanked those who came to the meeting.

“And know this — I am hearing you. Thank you,” she said to the applause of the crowd. 

Two days later, the night of Feb. 23, Anderson and Councilmember Chelsea Nunnenkamp held an “Affordable Housing Town Hall” at the Englewood Civic Center, attracting a large group of attendees. 

Anderson explained the purpose of the two-hour event was to share more information about CodeNext, its timeline and why various proposals are under consideration.

“We love our neighborhood. We love our city. But I also have, over the years, seen what's happened to our housing market. And I'm concerned,” he said. “I'm concerned about the future and concerned about other members of our community, and people who are on the edge and in poverty in our community. 

“And to me this is — it's (a) crisis level situation, and we can't bury our heads in the sand. We have to actually do something about it.”

Anderson and Nunnenkamp spoke about the need to increase housing supply in Englewood during the Feb. 23 town hall.
Anderson and Nunnenkamp spoke about the need to increase housing supply in Englewood during the Feb. 23 town hall.

Englewood’s housing report

To help explain the data that is informing the city council’s CodeNext considerations, Nunnenkamp shared some of the findings from Englewood’s housing needs assessment.  

The city got a grant through the state to do the assessment, which was done by a consultant called Root Policy Research, she said. Root Policy Research is a Denver-based community planning and housing research firm that also recently did the City of Centennial’s housing needs assessment

Last November, the firm presented to Englewood City Council its findings of what the city’s housing needs are, Nunnenkamp said. 

One of the findings she highlighted was that the home value in Englewood has tripled over the last 22 years, increasing from $182,504 in 2000 to $597,853 in 2022 — a 328% increase, per the report

“They found that metro-wide, while home prices are increasing, the availability of houses is decreasing,” Nunnenkamp said. “Houses are getting more expensive, and there’s fewer of them, and there’s more people who need them. That’s not a great combination.”

In 2020, approximately half of all Englewood renters were cost burdened, which is when a household spends more than 30% of its income on housing costs, according to the report. Roughly 23% of renters experience severe cost burden, meaning they pay more than 50% of their income on housing, and are considered at risk for homelessness. 

At the end of the report, there are some suggestions of actions Englewood can take to address its housing challenges, Nunnenkamp said. 

“One was that we need more diverse housing options to accommodate evolving needs of residents, and a wider array of market preferences and special needs. So there’s not one answer — we need a diverse set of options, a wider array of types of housing to meet the needs that we have.” 

According to the report, there is a shortage of 1,627 units priced for households earning less than $25,000 annually, which represents households earning roughly 30% of the area median income. 

“We also need more starter homes priced near or below $300,000,” Nunnenkamp said, noting another need is transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness. 

“This is what we’ve been working on,” Nunnenkamp said. “We’re looking at all the different things that we need to be doing … so that this affordable housing can occur in our city.”

Nunnenkamp said some people have asked if these issues can be taken care of by voucher-based housing — a federal government program that subsidizes rent for some low-income families, people with disabilities and older adults so that they can afford housing. She said she spoke with someone who sits on Englewood’s housing authority board and found out there is a voucher waiting list of more than 800 people in Englewood. 

“There’s a lot of ideas. It’s going to take all of them,” she said. 

The Englewood Civic Center on Feb. 1, 2023.
The Englewood Civic Center on Feb. 1, 2023.

CodeNext timeline

Anderson said the CodeNext process began in July of 2020, part of which included doing public engagement meetings and, later, setting up a steering committee for the development code redrafting process. 

“The steering committee was made up of members of the planning and zoning commission as well as a number of other residents in the city. And they’ve been working through the code along with the consultant that we hired to do it — and then Root Policy Research, they work with them as well,” he said. 

The council originally got quarterly updates on the CodeNext project’s progress, Anderson said. 

“And then most recently, starting in the fall, we started doing study sessions on different topics, working through all the different chapters,” Anderson said, explaining the council members give their ideas and suggestions during those meetings. “Now, we’re in the final stages of those study sessions — we may just have a few left.”

Once the draft of the code has been finalized, the next big step will be a public hearing held before the planning and zoning commission, as the commission considers if it will recommend that city council approve the draft or not. 

“At that hearing, they will take public feedback on the draft code that they presented. And then following that public hearing, they will have the chance to amend it, change it in whatever form that they feel based on the public feedback that they received before it comes to city council,” he said. “Once it comes to city council, that process starts over again. So we'll have another public hearing.”

Rezoning is one of several considerations

Rezoning R-1 zone districts is not the only consideration in the CodeNext draft that aims to address affordable housing needs, Anderson explained. 

Another consideration is to increase the allowances of accessory dwelling units, permitting them in all residential zones and, on some lots, allowing two accessory dwelling units, he said.  

These units, also referred to as ADUs, are smaller living spaces that are an extension of an existing property, such as garage apartments or granny flats, according to the City and County of Denver’s website

The council is also looking to increase options for two-to-four-unit buildings in R-2 zones, which are residential one and multi-dwelling unit districts, according to the code of ordinances. 

“So this would be expanding the allowance especially in terms of multi-family units in courtyard patterns, where you could take two lots together and allow several units to face into a common courtyard,” he said. 

Implementing development bonuses is also under consideration, which is when a developer gets some type of advantage for offering affordable housing in its development. 

For example, if a developer agrees to make a certain number of units in a project more affordable, then they could potentially reduce their parking requirement or increase their building height, Anderson said. 

Why is R-1 zoning under consideration?

One of the primary aims of the R-1 rezoning is to increase the overall housing supply, Anderson said. 

“When you don’t have enough of something, then the price goes up because people are competing for that product. Housing is in that situation, really, across the country, but certainly in Englewood and the Denver metro area, we have a housing shortage,” he said. 

Anderson explained the council still does not know many details regarding the potential allowance of two-to-four-unit buildings on certain lots in R-1-A, R-1-B and R-1-C zone districts. 

“We don’t want every R-1-A lot to be open to this development,” he said. “What we’re looking at, and still trying to decide on, and will discuss at future meetings is: What is an appropriate lot size for the different zone districts?”

“We want it to be spread out around the city, right?” Anderson added. “We don’t want whole blocks getting all the houses knocked down and new houses put in — it’s too much change too fast. So the idea with a proposal like this is it would allow for increased development but it would be more spread out.”

He noted that these two-to-four-unit buildings would be required to meet the same requirements as a single-family home.

“So that’s the same setback, bulk plane, open space requirement — all those requirements would be the same. So what we’re not proposing is that a developer can come in and put up a 60-foot-tall four-unit building on the corner of a lot or something like that,” he said. “We want small-scale multiplexes.”

“This is not set in stone, but I think the idea that we generally agreed on is that if there's two, three or four units, one of those units has to be affordable at that 80% AMI (area median income) level,” he said. “This would not be a first step for a homeless person to get into homeownership, this will be … for those who are working in the community — workforce housing.”

Nunnenkamp said there are currently four members of the seven-person council who are supportive of considering what these changes may look like, including herself and Anderson.

“We haven't made any decisions. We are very much in the drafting, considering, research, tweaking, trying to thread the needle portion of this process. We're trying really hard to get it right,” she said. 

During the public question portion of the town hall, someone inquired who the four council members are. 

“If you go back and listen to the meeting on January 23 … you can figure out who those people are. It's not that hard,” he said, adding that he won’t speak for them because he doesn’t know how they’ll ultimately vote on the issue. “But yes, we did reach consensus on some of these issues. And we'll see where it goes when the final proposals come in.”

One of the members who appears to be supportive of the consideration is Mayor Othoniel Sierra, who wrote about it in the spring edition of the city’s magazine

“While Englewood can’t control all of the variables that go into housing costs, one factor we can control is to make it much easier to build affordable housing in our city, through changes to our development code,” Sierra wrote.   

During the Jan. 23 meeting, Sierra said he wants to see the council do something about affordable housing within the city. 

“We have to increase our affordable housing in the area. We gotta increase the supply within the area, as well. For those that are saying no to this, I want to hear an answer on how we’re gonna provide affordable housing to many of our … teachers,” he said. 

Two members who have raised concerns about the proposal are Rita Russell and Steven Ward. 

“There might be a way to make this work on some small scale as a pilot by instituting some sort of setbacks similar to … what we have for marijuana — if you put this here, you can’t put another one within X number of feet of it, or something like that,” Ward said during the Jan. 23 meeting. “That would at least slow the progression, but I have a feeling that my constituents, in particular, in District 4 — which is the majority of this proposed change — would be very, very concerned about change on this scale, as am I.” 

During the Feb. 6 city council meeting, Councilmember Jim Woodward said, “We need to look at this more strategically — a whole lot more strategically. I personally don’t want to see R-1-A zone districts throughout the city all change to the same zoning where triplexes, fourplexes can go in. I can see maybe a part of, parts of those.”

At the same meeting, Ward said he saw three properties located on the 3200 block of South Sherman Street that were listed on Zillow.

“Looks to be a triplex. All three units are selling for over $1.1 million. They scraped single-family housing and replaced it with million-dollar triplexes. That is problematic,” Ward said. 

“You’re right about that,” Sierra said. “We have, if I looked at the same 90-day breakdown, there were four properties that sold over $1 million within the City of Englewood over that last time, and I think a couple of those were triplexes. So, I agree with you, and so it’s just something that — we just don’t have a carrot today and we need to continue to have this conversation to bring affordable housing into the area.” 

How to stay engaged 

Residents who are interested in learning more about the CodeNext Project can visit engaged.englewoodco.gov/codenext.  

According to the project’s website, the city council will discuss CodeNext during its March 13 city council study session, which residents can attend in person or watch via YouTube

Those who are interested in contacting their city council member can find their contact information listed on the city’s website: englewoodco.gov/government/city-council.

Englewood housing, Englewood CodeNext, Affordable housing Englewood, Root Policy Research


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