We Can All Learn From Studying Racism’s Role in the Evolution of Local Zoning

No one can deny that racism has played a role in housing, as it has in virtually every aspect of society since the founding of our country. Like me, however, I bet you’ll learn some things you didn’t know from this study of racism in zoning written by my friend, Don Cameron. While this study is of the City of Golden, it would be fair to say that it reflects the evolution of zoning throughout the country. Click here for Don’s full report with artwork, photos and footnotes.

A History of Golden Zoning

Golden Colorado circa 2020 has zoning that is best described as Euclidean, named after a court case in Euclid, Ohio. Euclidean zoning prescribes various areas in town to have various uses by right, and other uses that can be obtained by special permit.

Prior to that court case in Ohio, it was not clear that the government had a role in regulating land use, and individual landowners could pretty much do what they wanted. But in 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that municipalities had the right to regulate land use.

Golden’s history of zoning was initially one of mutual agreement between the town’s settlers and the city in laying out streets, creating easements for streets and utilities, but generally leaving land development to the individual owners. This sort of planning resulted in building on some lots that don’t meet current lot minimums, a variety of housing types and a mix of commercial and residential uses in some areas.

From 1954 onward, though, this mix of uses did not fit neatly into the districts that were created. Because of the mix of use types that already existed, some areas were zoned as commercial even though they had a large proportion of housing that was built as single family homes.

Other areas were zoned for higher density in anticipation of growth that in some cases still has not come. Later developments were zoned planned use development (PUD), with uses identified that were specified on the plats and may have included mixed use.

In parallel to this history there were also restrictive housing policies that were in place in Jefferson County, including Golden. Specifically, redlining was a practice put in place at the federal level by the Home Owners Loan Corporation in 1938.

Redlining defined areas where federally backed loans could  and could not be obtained. Golden itself had no redlining map, but let’s look at Golden’s history.

From the 1880s and into the 1920s property owners could pretty much do what they wanted. There were no explicit covenants preventing Blacks or non-Caucasians from buying or building in Golden. However, the 1920s also saw our government filled with KKK members and sympathizers and a reduction in Black (Negro at the time) residents in Jefferson County.

While Blacks in the county and city were few in number in the 1920s, nonetheless the KKK burned crosses on South Table Mountain’s Castle Rock formation above where Coors’ tourist parking lot is now.

There was a measurable racist element in the population, and there was not a welcoming environment. The plats were already written, and the residential land use defined, so there was little “need” to be racist in zoning because there was no demand (that is, few black people lived in Golden).

This “lack of need for racist/exclusionary zoning” changed, however, in the late 1930s amid the boom leading up to World War II.

Again, land use at the time was mostly protecting individual property rights. While the Supreme Court had ruled that cities could control land use, there was a very hands-off approach to this. So the “law” was on the side of homeowners.

Starting in the 1920s and into the 1940s it was common for people in many areas of Jefferson County to say they’d only sell their property to those of the Caucasian or other non-Negro races.

The courts backed up this right because they were protecting homeowners’ use of their land and had no civic duty to prevent this discrimination. Blacks were excluded from being shown properties in these restrictive areas, and. if they tried to purchase them, they might have it taken away soon after.

In 1942 there was the case of a Black family trying to build a new development and victory garden near what is now Boyd Street. The family said they would put in all the utilities required to government code. Still, white citizens of Golden protested. The following article appeared in the October 22, 1942, edition of the Golden Transcript:

Citizens Protest to City Council

    A large number of citizens appeared before the city council Wednesday evening, and stated that a group of colored people had taken possession of the land recently purchased by them east of the Clark’s Garden addition, within the city limits of Golden, and were apparently staking out some proposed building sites. These citizens protested to the city council the starting of a colored settlement in Golden.

It was pointed out in the meeting that the sale of the property had been approved by the county court on September 24, and that the purchase price for the 30-acre craft was $1,500, not including some legal and abstract of title cost…

The article went on to say that at the mayor’s direction, a citizen’s committee was formed to negotiate with the FHA to not allow this sale to go through and not fund it, claiming the cost of extending utilities would be burdensome. One of the citizens appointed to this committee was Casper Bussert.

Golden had few areas that were not platted, but when a new plat was put in for the Sunshine Park Addition in 1944, by this same Casper Bussert, he added a deed restriction limiting ownership to Caucasians.

While this would seem to violate the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court had already ruled that the 14th Amendment was about states not discriminating based on race, but was silent on individuals’ ability to discriminate. However, in the late 1940s the NAACP and others started pushing back on these covenants using the following argument: If a black person were to buy a restricted property and then the state were to enforce the covenant, that would constitute a violation of the 14th Amendment, which eliminated slavery and gave Blacks the right to buy and own property.

In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled that these types of covenants were no longer enforceable. Almost immediately, and certainly by 1950 one sees a complete change to the covenants created in Golden and surrounding areas. Rather than explicitly restricting an area to whites, there were new restrictions excluding those without access to capital. Enter classism.

Even though redlining was no longer permitted, there were (and are) limits on Blacks’ ability to get loans on favorable terms. Some loans, for example, were interest only for the term of the loan, so one did not gain any equity until the loan term ended. Failure to make even one payment could result in “owners” losing their homes with no equity.

When new restrictions were put in place by the FHA, they targeted people without access to loans. An additional clause that targeted families with kids was the Nuisance Clause, which limited activities based on the opinion of the architectural control committee.

R1 (single-family) zoning, as laid out in the city code, shows a direct evolution from racist covenants to restrictive covenants to exclusionary zoning, all of which kept housing out of the hands of Blacks.

The legacy of this is the noticeable and persistent wealth gap in this country. Blacks, by being excluded from homeownership, have not been able to build wealth, escape blighted areas, or enjoy integrated schools. Because school funding is typically based on property taxes, school districts are  self-segregated by wealth and thereby race.

In summary, Golden’s history follows the narrative of the country with respect to race. Land planning and zoning may be silent on race, but the effect of both planning and zoning continues to exhibit, in its end result, the heritage of systemic racism, to the detriment of Blacks in particular.

Just Listed: 1-BR Millstone Condo on Clear Creek

640 11th Street, #203, Golden – The right balcony above the entrance belongs to this unit. Just listed at $575,000

Downtown Golden is a great place to live, and this condo building is probably as close as you’d want to be — backing to Clear Creek and just one block from Washington Avenue. The balcony of this condo (see picture below) has a view of Lookout Mountain and the “M” on Mt. Zion. All the year-round excitement of Golden is within walking distance but not right outside your window. If you have an electric car, there’s free charging in the public garage less than a block away and eight other free charging stations within 4 blocks. Hiking trails are also a short walk away, up North & South Table Mountain as well as Mt. Zion, Lookout Mountain and Mt. Galbraith Open Space. Inside, this is a low maintenance condo with hardwood floors throughout, slab granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and low energy costs. Take a narrated video tour at www.GoldenCondo.info, then call your agent or Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 for a private showing.

The Pros and Cons of Buying in a Community With a Homeowners Association

Like every real estate agent, I have encountered buyers who don’t want to buy in a neighborhood with an HOA. I have set up more than one MLS alert for buyers with “No HOA” as one of their search criteria.

There are many good reasons to avoid an HOA, just as there are reasons to want an HOA. Among the negatives, an HOA costs money, al-though those dues do cover some expenses you would otherwise have to pay for on your own, such as trash collection. In a patio home community, dues could cover snow removal up to your front door and garage, grounds maintenance, a community pool, fitness center, and even water and sewer.  Unless the community is self-managed, your dues also pay for a management company.

The more common negatives we hear concern personal liberty. You can’t change your home’s exterior, including paint color or adding a new deck, without approval by the HOA. You probably can’t store your RV on the street or on your lot. And there’s always that one neighbor who is a self-appointed enforcer of the covenants and rules. I was turned in once by one who saw my lawn person passing through the adjoining common space to reach my backyard.

According to the Community Associations Institute (CAI), the number of HOAs in the United States has increased from just 10,000 in 1970 to more than 320,000 today. If you buy a home in a subdivision developed in the last 30 years, you most likely will be buying in a neighborhood with an HOA. So, what are the arguments in favor of an HOA?

A common refrain in support of HOAs is that they protect property values for their members. Without an HOA to enforce its rules, a neighbor could paint his home dayglo yellow or litter his yard, visible to you, with old furniture and cars on blocks. He could allow the paint to peel and not replace his obviously hail damaged roof and let the exterior of his home go into disrepair. These are just a few examples of how one homeowner can affect a neighborhood’s property values. Imagine putting your beautifully updated home on the market if the above description applied to your neighbor’s house.

People in non-HOA communities can tell “bad neighbor” stories to rival any HOA horror story.

Back in the 1970s it was common for subdivisions to be built with covenants that applied to every home in that subdivision, but no HOA was created to enforce those covenants. If a neighbor violated a covenant, one’s only recourse was to sue that neighbor in civil court — an unlikely scenario. Some non-HOA neighborhoods have created neighborhood associations with voluntary dues (for example, $30 per year), which cover the cost of community picnics, newsletters, etc. I listed a home in one such non-HOA subdivision, Columbine Knolls South in south Jeffco, which is quite aggressive in enforcing a covenant that restricts the type of roof a homeowner can install.

Starting around the 1990s, subdivision developers created HOAs which they controlled until a certain percentage of homes were sold, at which point they would turn over control to a board elected by the residents. Unless it was a really small subdivision, this board would then hire a management company to handle the hiring of vendors (such as trash haulers or grounds keepers) and enforcing covenants, as well as rules and regulations promulgated by the board of directors at their monthly meetings or by the homeowners at their annual meeting.

Done right, HOAs can be an efficient means of providing services, assigning payment responsibility and being responsive to members’ concerns. Such factors have driven the continued growth of association-governed communities, including HOAs, condominium associations, and other “common interest communities.”

HOAs can fund a diverse variety of services and amenities, from golf courses to equestrian facilities and fitness centers. Few Americans could afford such benefits without the shared responsibility made possible with an HOA. According to CAI, “People who don’t want to contend with gutters and yard work can purchase homes in communities where these responsibilities are taken on by the associations. There are age-restricted communities, pet-free and pet-friendly communities, even communities with air strips. Community associations give people options, alternatives, facilities and resources they could not otherwise enjoy.”

CAI states that more than 62 million Americans live in neighborhoods with an HOA and “take advantage of association-sponsored activities like holiday events, social clubs, athletic and fitness activities, pool parties and more. These activities help residents get to know their neighbors and forge new, supportive friendships.”

Because it’s not a popular assignment (and is unpaid), you can probably get elected to your HOA board and have a say in its governance.  I did that myself but resigned after a couple years. You may be more suited to that experience.

I totally respect those who want to avoid HOAs for one reason or another. Rita and I have experienced both ways of life and, while we don’t value one over the other, we appreciate why others may have a strong feeling for or against living in an HOA-governed neighborhood.

If you are not outright opposed to an HOA but do have concerns, just know that when you go under contract with a home in an HOA, the seller must provide financial and other documents as well as bylaws and minutes of recent HOA meetings, and you can terminate if you don’t like what you read.

Consider Installing a Heat Pump Water Heater

If you’re attuned to the issue of sustainability, you may already know that heat pump water heaters are a smart replacement for gas water heaters and a great way to reduce your “carbon footprint.”

Combine it with replacing your gas furnace with a heat pump mini-split system and your gas range with an electric induction cooktop, and you could disconnect your gas meter and go all-electric. Then trade in your gas-powered car for an electric car and put enough solar panels on your home to power it all, and you’re on your way to eliminating the use of fossil fuels altogether — provided you’re willing to live without your gas fireplace!

Heat pumps don’t create heat, they move heat, which is why they are more efficient than gas or resistance heating. Toasters and electric space heaters are examples of resistance heating. Rather than heating water directly, a heat pump water heater moves heat out of the room into the water tank. For synergy, put it in the same room as a freezer, which is doing the opposite — moving heat into the room. Or build a wine cellar around your water heater for free cooling of your wine!

I purchased my Rheem  unit for under $1,300 (on sale at Home Depot) and earned a $400 rebate from Xcel Energy plus a $300 federal tax credit.  

Green Home of the Month

The Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is every October, but you can take a video tour of one of the best “green homes” of the last 20 years at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com. The January 2021 Green Home of the Month is Rainer Gerbatsch’s home in Arvada’s net zero energy Geos Community.

Price Reduced on Secluded Western Slope Paradise

20045 High Park Road, Cedaredge CO – Listed now at $378,000

Have you yearned for the wide open spaces? This home in Cedaredge, a small town (2,253 population, elevation 6,230) 30 miles south of Powderhorn ski area, might be just the ticket. It’s on 5.87 acres, nestled against the Grand Mesa, minutes from downtown Cedaredge. This property with its fenced 3+ acre irrigated horse pasture, two ponds and the sound of Williams Creek outside your bedroom window, is one of a kind! The home is situated perfectly to allow the southern sun to provide passive solar heat through the large window in winter, not to mention spectacular views of the San Juan Mountains. Cool summer evenings can be spent out by the creek watching the wildlife play in your backyard. Find more pictures and take a video tour of this home at www.CedaredgeHome.info, then call your agent or Kim Taylor at 303-304-6678 for a private showing.   

Could Accessory Dwelling Units Be a Solution, Albeit Small, to Housing Shortage?

An increasing number of jurisdictions, including Denver, Englewood, Boulder, Golden and Arvada, are allowing the construction of a second dwelling unit for homes zoned for single-family. The common term for them is “Accessory Dwelling Unit” or ADU. Golden, unlike the other cities, allows an ADU on properties zoned for either one or two dwelling units.

The ordinances that allow such units include rules that distinguish a home with an ADU from, say, a duplex. For example, they cannot have their owned legal description and can’t have separate water and sewer connections.

Sixty-two ADUs have been approved under Golden’s 2009 ADU ordinance. Denver has permitted 263 ADUs just since Jan. 1, 2016.

Arvada had Jefferson County’s first ADU ordinance, enacted in 2007. Its key points were:

> The property owner must live on site, in either the main house or in the ADU.

> The ADU is limited to 800 SF, or 40% of main home’s size. Minimum size is 200 SF.

> No more than 1 bedroom is allowed.

> No more than two persons may live in a unit up to 600 SF, or three persons in a unit between 600 and 800 SF.

> One on-site parking space is required.

> The ADU’s design must be consistent with that of the principal unit, and the entrance, if visible from the street, must be clearly subordinate to the primary home’s entrance.

These are only some of the requirements with which a homeowner must comply when adding an ADU to his or her property.

The cities differ in some of their requirements. For example, Arvada forbids a home business in an accessory dwelling unit, but Golden’s code does not reference that usage.

ADUs can be within the primary structure (such as a walk-out basement) or in a separate structure, either above a detached garage or as a standalone structure. 

There are many uses for ADUs. One use is to create a rental unit, helping homeowners with their ownership costs. Another is to provide a “mother-in-law” unit that provides an elderly family member with independent living but in close proximity to family. Conversely, an elderly homeowner might use an ADU to provide living quarters for a caregiver who needs to be close by. Ditto for a family which has hired a nanny for their young children.

In Golden, each ADU requires an allocation under Golden’s 1% growth limitation. Only Boulder, among the other cities that allow ADUs, has such an ordinance.

California, with its high housing costs, appears to be the national leader in the adoption of ADUs. Here’s some useful information from an article I found online from the New York and Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative:

Parts of California have welcomed ADUs for decades while others operated under much stricter rules. This created a complex patchwork of local regulations that was difficult for residents and builders to navigate. The new laws relaxed regulations around setback requirements, minimum lot sizes and other elements that previously made building ADUs difficult in some areas.

Legislative changes at the state and local levels appear to have opened the floodgates for ADU permits in parts of California, including San Jose, where ADU permits issued per year went from 192 in 2018 to 416 in 2019, according to www.BuildinganADU.com.

In Redwood City, a smaller city in the Bay Area, ADU permit issuance doubled during the same period.

The idea appears to be popular among older homeowners: 84 percent of people 50 and older would construct an ADU in order to provide a home for a loved one in need of care, and according to a 2018 study on ADUs by AARP.

The federal government backed the idea of accessory dwellings in the 1990s, with a Task Force on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing recommending removing restrictions on accessory apartments to enable elders to age in place, according to 2008 research in the Journal of Aging and Policy.

Data on the effectiveness of ADUs for caregiving families is scarce, beyond anecdotal evidence and numbers illuminating their popularity in cities where they’re legal and encouraged.

California’s openness to ADUs is part of the state’s strategy to tackle its crushing housing market, which with runaway prices and low housing stock threatens to shut out residents who’ve been living in Bay Area cities like San Francisco or San Jose for decades.

I have become familiar with a local company, Verdant Living, that specializes in the construction of ADUs, or “backyard bungalows.”  Their website is www.VerdantLiving.us. Owner John Phillips pointed me toward another useful website, www.AccessoryDwellings.org.

Just Listed: 2-Story Home in Golden’s Stonebridge Subdivision

808 Brown Squirrel Lane, Golden – Listed at $875,000

Stonebridge at Eagle Ridge is a 232-home subdivision at the foot of Lookout Mountain. This home is near the end of one of three cul-de-sacs that end with a trailhead into Eagle Ridge Park. Only three other homes are between this home and a trailhead leading to the playground and picnic area. Upstairs, two guest bedrooms have views of Lookout Mountain, and the master bedroom features a view of the hogback and Green Mountain. The 14’x16′ loft overlooking the family room could easily become a 4th upstairs bedroom. In the basement is a 2nd family room and home theater plus another bedroom with en suite bathroom.  Underneath the full width main-floor deck is a concrete patio with a hot tub, which is included. Listing agent Jim Smith lives in this neighborhood (two blocks away) and loves it here, and so will you! Take Jim’s narrated video tour online at www.StonebridgeHome.net, then come to the open house Saturday, January 16th, 11am-2pm.

Coming Soon: Updated Bungalow in North Golden

305 N. Columbine Street – Listed at $598,000

This updated bungalow has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, including a spacious master suite. The floors are beautiful tile and original hardwood. The back porch has been enclosed and heated and has a vaulted pine ceiling. The backyard has a large patio for entertaining. There are two parking spaces off the alley, where you could build a 2-car garage. Next to the parking spaces are a gardening shed and a cinder block shed that once served as a well house. This home is within walking distance of Clear Creek and downtown Golden, as well as hiking and biking trails and all that Golden has to offer. Visit www.NorthGoldenHome.com to view a narrated video tour, then call your agent or Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 for a private showing, which begins soon.

Denver Real Estate Market Ends 2020 with a Record-Breaking December

The chart below is a compilation of various market indicators for the Denver metro area, which I am defining as a 25-mile radius of the State Capitol. There are some surprising differences this December from previous Decembers to be discerned from looking at that chart. I have included June figures but put the December stats in bold type to make it easier to compare summer vs. winter statistics over the last five years.

Source: REcolorado

Historically, one would expect to see more sold listings, new listings and active listings in June than in December, and that trend held true in 2020, but the numbers for this December broke some new ground.

The number of sold listings and new listings were at record highs for a December, leaving the number of active listings at a record low. There has been lots of talk about how low our active inventory is, but, as I’ve written before, that’s not for lack of new listings but rather how quickly buyers are snapping up new listings.

The strength of this sellers’ market becomes more evident when you look at the other columns. In past years, the median sold price in December was substantially lower than it was in June, but the opposite was true this year, rising to a record $455,000. Correspondingly, the average price per finished square foot surged above June’s number to a record $246, and the median days in the MLS (“DIM”) plunged from last December’s 24 to just 7 days this December — even lower than the DIM for June 2020. The average DIM of 28 is more typical of summer months than winter, reflecting the fact that even homes that had been languishing on the market (because they were overpriced) were selling at a faster clip last month. Indeed 22% of the listings sold were on the MLS for over 30 days. Of those, 5.8% were active over 90 days, and 3.4% were active for more than 120 days. Those older listings are responsible for raising the average DIM.

Because of the well-publicized migration away from densely populated areas because of Covid-19, I was curious to learn whether single-family detached homes represented a higher percentage of the closings this December, compared to December 2019, but in fact the percentage dropped a little this year — 66.7% this year vs. 69.5% last year. The same was true in June, when the pandemic was already raging and we believed that people were fleeing condos for detached single-family homes. This is counterintuitive, and I can offer no theory to explain it, but I have more to say about this topic below.

Another measure of the strength of the current sellers’ market is how many homes sold above their asking prices. With December 2019’s days in MLS number so high (24), one hardly needs to ask, but here are the numbers. This December, 16.6% of the listings sold for their full listing price, and 42.2% sold above their listing price. Last year, those numbers were dramatically lower. While 15.8% sold for their full listing price, only 15.9% of listings sold above their listing price in December 2019.

So, what’s the prognosis for 2021?  January is positioned to have a record number of closings, considering that there are a record number of pending transactions left over from December, as shown in the chart. With mortgage interest rates projected to remain at record lows — currently at or below 3% — there is a strong incentive for buyers to keep buying. Another factor favoring buyers is the movement of service sector jobs towards working from home.

To measure that trend, I compared the December-over-December sales in Downtown Denver, part of Capitol Hill and the Golden Triangle (specifically, a 1.2-mile radius from 20th & Arapahoe Streets in downtown Denver) and found there were 63 sales in December 2019 compared to 77 sales in December 2020. Meanwhile, there were 272 active listings in December 2019, but that surged to 444 active listings in December 2020.  It’s a buyer’s market there.

In that same area, the days in MLS dropped from 43 days last December to 32 days this December (way higher than the 24 days vs. 7 days for the 25-mile radius in the above chart), but the median sold price plunged from $535,000 in December 2019 to $480,000 in December 2020. Compare that to the $40,000 increase in median sold price with the larger metro area, as shown in the above chart.

So, yes, it is still harder to sell a home in the densely populated central Denver area, and there is definitely an out-migration taking shape, but it’s still too early to call it an exodus.

Note: All these statistics were compiled from REcolorado, Denver’s MLS, excluding listings from other MLSs which are displayed on REcolorado.com. Often those listings from other MLSs are merely duplicates of REcolorado’s own listings, so I excluded them.