Nicole Speer grew up between Luxembourg, where her mother lived, and Portland, where her father lived. She moved to Boulder in 2005 to pursue postdoctoral research at the CU Boulder. She now works as the director of research services at the university’s Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium, a research facility and lab space for neuroscientists. She made her political debut in 2021, when she was elected to a four-year term on the Boulder City Council. Speer now serves as a council representative for Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), a regional transportation planning agency governed by local elected officials. She is a member of the United Campus Workers Colorado, a union for the University of Colorado, and the NAACP Boulder County. She is a member of First Congregational United Church of Christ. She and her husband have two children and live in the Tantra Lake neighborhood in South Boulder.
Endorsements: Boulder Progressives, Bedrooms Are For People, Boulder chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Colorado Working Families Party, Boulder Area Labor Council (AFL-CIO), Communications Workers of America
Answers to questionnaire:
What do you think are the most promising initiatives for reducing homelessness?
Homelessness encompasses the encampments in our public spaces to families doubling up in single-family homes. Regardless of the type of homelessness we talk about, no one finds our current situation acceptable. Thankfully, there are evidence-based, data-driven strategies that prevent, reduce and even eliminate homelessness.
- Small amounts of one-time emergency assistance prevent homelessness for at least 2 years. Allocating $100,000 more to emergency assistance funds in our 2024 budget could keep 40 people out of homelessness.
- Our region’s Built for Zero effort reduced veteran homelessness in the Denver Metro area by 31% even as homelessness increased 32% in the Denver Metro region. Houston had the 6th highest homelessness rates in the U.S. but has reduced homelessness by 63% in the past decade by following a similar model. Let’s champion this work.
- Supportive housing in Denver eliminated homelessness for 77% of program participants. The county has a sales tax extension on the November ballot to fund affordable housing, including permanent supportive housing. Let’s support this extension.
Focusing on prevention will avoid continued increases in homelessness. Meanwhile, let’s support evidence-based, data-driven approaches to reducing and even ending homelessness. Read more about how we can reduce homelessness in Boulder.
We are in a climate emergency. With your leadership, how would Boulder change commensurately?
As the climate crisis worsens, changes that endanger entire sections of our ecosystem will happen over months rather than years. We need a climate resilience and risk assessment for each parcel of land in the city and an equity analysis of our open space charter. OSMP funds should start to shift to land regeneration and maintenance, such as having planting teams on our open space lands that create resilience against desertification. We must focus more on regenerating soils, planting more trees to cool our city, and talking more about how we use, catch, and cycle water.
The next Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan must have a strong climate and equity focus and move our city into the next generation of climate work by:
- Updating our landscaping ordinances to prioritize Cool Boulder initiatives and the creation of functional, resilient ecosystems.
- Restoring Indigenous connections to the land and creating mechanisms for ecological monitoring and rapid responses to emerging threats (e.g., invasive species, drought, etc.).
- Promoting the use of agricultural land to regenerate ecosystems and create food justice and food sovereignty.
- Analyzing critical infrastructure (water, sewer) so we can make land use changes that will not tax already aging infrastructure.
How can we better provide alternatives to cars when existing infrastructure prioritizes cars?
This certainly is a challenge! Public transit would be a good option but without additional funding from the state, RTD will only get back to 80% of pre-pandemic service levels in the next four years. Funding from the Denver Regional Council of Governments will create a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line along Arapahoe from downtown Boulder to I-25, and a multi-use path, bikeway and BRT along the Diagonal Highway between Boulder and Longmont.
The Core Arterial Network will make biking, walking and rolling safer. We have started to receive funding to support this important work. As we have safer routes for bicycles, we can continue to offer e-bike rebates and expand micro-mobility options like BCycle.
Moving forward, we need to be designing streets to universal design standards, where we aren’t just designing for abled people but are incorporating the needs of those living with disabilities, too. This means sidewalks that accommodate people using mobility assistive devices, and people with vision or hearing impairments, neurological disorders and mental illnesses. Universal design standards that line walkways with trees and water-absorbent natural landscapes will also support the goals of our Cool Boulder initiative and our equity and inclusion goals.
What is your plan for increasing Boulder’s affordable housing supply?
The time to increase Boulder’s affordable housing supply was 20-30 years ago. A healthy housing ecosystem has a range of housing types and prices for different stages of life and different types of households. It evolves over decades. The crisis we are in now is a result of past policies.
Raising wages for workers and providing more basic needs assistance to families now will help more people afford housing in Boulder in the short-term, while we do the longer-term work of increasing our supply of affordable housing for the future over the next 15-30 years. We can relax zoning and land-use restrictions to allow duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones, change current code to disincentivize large homes and incentivize smaller homes, and work to ensure additions and large-scale renovations to existing single-family homes are subject to inclusionary housing fees so we have more funds to build more affordable housing in the coming decades.
Incidentally, addressing this issue will also help us address homelessness. The Pew Research Center recently published a study showing that cities that made these types of land-use and zoning changes have not seen the increases in homelessness of cities that had not made these changes.
What approach would you take to address camping in our parks, on our bike paths and along our waterways?
It is unacceptable that we have people living in our public spaces. To address this situation, we need to invest in evidence-based solutions such as those mentioned above, and divest in failed policies. The climate crisis was exacerbated by people’s inability to believe in science and accept facts. Our encampment situation is also exacerbated by our unwillingness to believe in science, listen to people with lived experience, and accept the facts about who is homeless and why.
Housing ends homelessness, but we do not have the financial or staffing resources to rapidly build permanent, supportive housing for everyone who is camping in our parks and along our waterways and multi-use paths. We can, however, divert the funding we spend on encampment removals and follow Denver’s lead by creating micro-communities that can more quickly provide sheltered communities with wraparound services for people whose needs cannot be met by existing shelters.
These micro-communities should be small (6-8 individuals per micro-community), they should be equitably distributed across the city, and we should incentivize their use rather than punishing use of public spaces. Read more about how we can fund evidence-based policies at no additional cost with the 2024 budget, and finally reduce encampments.
Assume you are elected this November. Now imagine it’s November one year later. What one, specific thing will you have accomplished that you’re proud of? Put another way, what will define success for you after one year on council, or as mayor?
I would consider next year a policy success if we passed a minimum wage increase that rises with inflation; placed a similar measure on the 2024 ballot to appropriately pay councilmembers for their time to increase representation from workers, parents, younger people and renters (and we had agreed to pay board and commission members, too); agreed to shift our spending on homelessness to prioritize prevention and evidence-based alternatives to camping; and initiated a city-wide climate resilience and risk assessment.
I would consider my first year as mayor a success if 90% of council meetings had ended on time, we had spent the most meeting time on the issues that are of biggest concern to the community (climate impacts, affordable housing, homelessness), and we had completed more than one of the next council’s priority items in our first 12 months.
I would consider the next council a success if the new council had fostered an environment where robust debate on critical issues was encouraged; where all councilmembers had the chance to show their leadership at community events; and where our new councilmembers had developed the confidence, relationships and skills to bring their most collaborative and innovative thinking to our city’s challenges.