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Tallis Salamatian weighs in on affordable housing

"I believe that if people are trapped in low-income affordable housing we aren’t doing a good job as a community."
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Longmont City Council candidates were asked to answer a survey on affordable housing by the East County Housing Opportunity Coalition, or ECHO, — a nonprofit organization that educates, informs and trains East Boulder County residents about local affordable housing needs, according to the website

On the site for the survey, ECHO announced that any candidates not represented did not return the questionnaire. 

The following are the answers provided by each candidate along with the questions asked. To keep each entry short the responses are broken up by candidate through a series that will be published throughout the week. 

Tallis Salamatian: 

1. What is your 10 year vision for affordable housing in Longmont?  

I believe that if people are trapped in low-income affordable housing we aren’t doing a good job as a community. My aspiration is that we won’t need subsidized housing because we’ve  educated and re-skilled low income individuals so they no longer need assistance. The way  we do this is increase the rate of home ownership by increasing the stock of affordable housing in the 250K-350K range. This can be done through increasing housing density and  potentially implementing deed restrictions requiring the residence is owner occupied.  

I feel some of my competitors, especially the ones backed by the Longmont Area  Democrats, want to keep people in poverty and continue to enrich slumlords, because that  is what happens when they promote their no-growth policies. Raj CheJy, a Harvard  economist says (via “The Economist” magazine article: “Reasons for social immobility”) “absolute mobility (the chance that a child will go on to earn more than their parents) has  dropped from 90%, a near certainty, to 50%, a coin-toss; that the gap in life-expectancy  between rich and poor has widened even as that between blacks and whites has narrowed.” 

Many economists, including myself, believe that upward mobility has stalled due to lack of  wage growth and the ever increasing portion of personal cashflows rent eats up. Even with  “Affordable” housing people are paying more than 50% of their take-home income. That  means instead of subsidizing rent how about put the money towards down payment  assistance and special ultra low interest mortgages 

That being said, I know that home ownership isn’t for everyone, that is why we do need  Affordable Housing. Longmont needs a wide range of housing options, this will ensure we  have a well rounded and diverse community.  

2. Longmont has a goal of achieving 12% affordable housing by 2035. Is this the right goal?  What concrete proposals would you add to city policies to meet or exceed that goal?  

As I mentioned in my last answer, if we have 12% or higher we aren’t doing our jobs  because we’ve trapped those people in poverty. I’d rather target 10%-20% affordable  housing. This will allow those individuals to grow wealth rather than enrich slumlords.  

We are 14 years away from 2035. Let’s run some hypothetical numbers. Assuming 1)  someone was paying $1,800 a month in either rent (A) or Mortgage (B), 2) On average 1/3  of mortgage payments go towards principle, 3) Let’s assume 5% increase annually in rent  and 10% housing appreciation.

As you can see in the chart, the real amount paid in scenario B is 120K less and the  contribution to the principle + appreciation from the house makes the person in scenario B  over $750K richer.  

So why would we want to increase affordable housing over home ownership?  

I believe we need to focus on increasing the stock of affordable housing. One way to do this  is by rezoning underutilized commercial property into multifamily units for the purpose of  increasing Affordable Housing. We would also need to providing incentives to owners of  those properties to convert their property into condos and sell those units at affordable prices. One issue with this is the delta between the revenue generated by the property  taxes of commercial vs residential.  

3. What changes would you make to the inclusionary housing ordinance in Longmont, if any?  

I would allow home buyers to send lenders to the seller. Being able to send a lender to the  seller was a primary reason my wife and I were able to compete with out-of-town cash  offers.  

I understand that the change was made to remove the possibility of racial bias, but in reality  it just helps people with money who aren’t people from disadvantages groups.  

4. Will you proactively promote more affordable housing at transit stops designed to get  people out of their cars, including greater density at those locations?  

I do not think that Longmont needs more rental properties. Fifty percent of people rent in  our community, I believe we need to increase the rate of home ownership. Instead of  apartments I believe that we need to make more condos available.  

I do like infill development and increasing density. The advantages are clear: reduced need  for vehicles, reducing congestion, reducing pollution, and it leads to a healthier population. 

5. What does smart growth mean to you, and how would you ensure that all new  developments are “smart”? 

Smart development means a mixture of housing options for members of our community  because people by nature have a wide range of tastes and preferences. To ensure we are  properly leading growth, the city needs to provide more guidance to developers to deal with  issues like: rain water drainage, development in the flood plain, parking requirements,  engineering requirements, and building requirements. 

We also need to allow metro districts and general improvement districts. They allow for  lower home prices, which is critical for allowing members of the workforce to buy a house.  

6. What do you understand about the history of racism that has led to People of Color  owning less property, and thus having less wealth than white people? What policies  would you actively support to make up for years of racism in housing policy? 

Being a person of color and an immigrant I’ve experienced racism and discrimination. When  my wife and I were buying our home the local lender expressed skepticism about our  application once my name was included.  

Historically I’ve learned about redlining and other methods of discrimination. The fact that it  was so blatant was very upsetting to me. As shown in the table in question 2 preventing home ownership can lead to significant wealth. That is why I don’t believe “Affordable  Housing” is a good strategy because, while inexpensive, it keeps people in poverty.  

I realize there are certain people for whom home ownership isn’t right for. For those people  there needs to be rental options that include affordable housing.  

7. Do you think neighborhood opposition should be able to derail development projects that  are consistent with the pre-approved goals and values of the City? Please explain.  

Generally I do not think that NIMBY-ism is healthy for communities. This NIMBY-ism is  demonstrated by the Longmont Area Democrat’s leadership. When I spoke to Marlyn, one  of the heads of the organization, she said, “I don’t want things to change from when I  bought my house in 1970,” and that is not consistent with growth of any type. I believe any  LAD candidate will uphold Marlyn’s wishes.  

8. Do you see a role for the City in limiting vacation rentals and investor-owned property as  a way of keeping housing costs down? Please explain.  

As someone who owned and operated an AirBnB rental, I’ve seen the benefits of offering  the rental to members of our community. Often people who rented the property were  between houses or were visiting local family members.  

However, I do see a need to discourage the hoovering up of affordable housing. I believe  that the city needs to promote home ownership and should be willing to look at innovative solutions. I don’t believe that small landlords with only a hand full of rentals negatively impacts the market, however private equity companies or individuals that own hundreds or  thousands of properties can impact the market. 

9. Would you support limiting the state statute banning rent control. ____yes ____no.  Explain. 

No, I believe in free market solutions. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned previously, home  ownership should be the goal not trapping people in rental poverty. One component  required to graduating people out of rental poverty and into home ownership is providing  re-skilling opportunities. FRCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Programs include both one year  and two year programs that can give graduates an opportunity to earn $25-$30/hour in  their new career.  

10. Is there a role for local government in enforcing Colorado’s warranty of habitability laws? ____yes ____no. Explain.  

Yes, I believe that rental properties ought to be licensed just like how short-term rentals are  licensed. It is critical that housing is habitable. I believe that tenants should be able to report  bad landlords to ensure safe living conditions.  

11. Would you support changing height restrictions to create more affordable housing?  ____yes ____no. Explain.  

Yes. I believe that we should allow for taller buildings in some areas to allow for more  Affordable Housing, not affordable housing. My father was a contractor so I know that by  adding more floors, developers can reduce marginal cost per square foot. One limiting factor is ensuring there is enough parking for the dwellings.  

The reason the cost is less is because the roof cost is constant regardless of the floors and  the cost to the foundation is only slightly increased. These two costs amortized over more  interior square footage reduces overall costs. Additionally, costs associated with bringing  utilities to the building are also spread out reducing the individual unit cost.  

12. Would you support a program to create deed restricted accessory dwelling units?  ___ yes ___ no  If yes, what would you do to make this happen in our community? If no, why? 

Yes, I see value in the ability to subdivide a property, especially on larger lots in downtown  areas like Old Town. Generally I believe that property owners should have the ability to  make improvements to their property, especially if that improvement allows for them to  generate income. This also promotes density and reduces development costs because the  property is already owned. 

13. Would you support changing single-family zoning to allow for more homes?  ____ yes ____no. What commitment would you make to ensuring this happens, and in what time frame?  

Yes. The Envision Longmont Strategic Plan calls for rezoning of areas throughout Longmont  for the purposes of growth. I’d prefer to rezone commercial and industrial properties into  multifamily units similar to the Cannery Building. With the changing work environment, I  believe that there will be more people working from home and less people commuting to  offices. That will leave offices vacant and prime redevelopment targets. 

14. Would you take a leadership role in persuading council to use American Rescue Plan Act  dollars to land bank, or help mobile home park renters purchase their homes?  _____ yes ____no 

Yes. That sounds like a prudent way to spend those resources. I think that property values  will continue to rise in the area so investing in land in and around the city would be a great  investment. 

15. Would you support procurement policies in housing that create a preference system for  minority and disadvantaged businesses? _____ yes __x__no. Would you take a leadership role on this? _x_yes __  

No, I believe that we should not look at race for making decisions. I believe that we should  focus on helping people who are disadvantaged economically no matter their skin color,  religious beliefs or sexual orientation. This identity politics lead to the populism that elected  Trump, we need to move beyond identity politics. To truly help people we need to address  the illness not the symptoms. Not all people of color are poor and not all white people are  rich. If we want to help disadvantaged people let’s focus on the poor.  

16. Should our city create an eviction legal defense program like the one in place in Boulder?  ___ yes ___x__no  

If not, what other means do you see for addressing the needs for supporting renters in our  community?  

We need to help people buy homes, not stay in rentals. That being said, I do believe that  people with limited resources should have the ability to seek recourse against landlords  who take advantage of the poor. It is my understanding that small claims court is a  legitimate way tenants can seek damages. If support is to be given to disadvantaged people  to help them fight back it should be done within the small claims court system, not by  adding more bureaucracy.


Edit/Correction: Fixed the spelling of Tallis Salamatian's name in both headline and article