Silas Atkins takes on Boulder’s political establishment with idealism, lived experience

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023

There is sometimes a vast separation between elected officials and the end users of the programs and services the government provides. That’s particularly true in Boulder, where the overwhelming majority of City Council members have been homeowners — despite the fact that the majority of Boulderites are renters.

Silas Atkins noticed the growing gulf between the halls of power and the people they supposedly serve. And so he decided to run, hoping to be one of the rare exceptions to that disparate dynamic. 

“I’ve sat on the sidelines,” Atkins said. “I want to see the rules and regulations change to meet the needs of the people in Boulder. They’re not working for me, they’re not working for lots of people that I know.”

“I want to get us back to the government working for the people” — all the people.

The Boulder Valley School District para-educator has experience with the city government, albeit not the kind that traditionally produces politicians. Atkins has lived in housing kept affordable by the city’s inclusionary housing program. He has used emergency rental assistance. And this past year, he served on the group that designed Boulder’s guaranteed income pilot program, Elevate Boulder. 

All those experiences informed his platform. 

“We’ve got disparity after disparity,” he said, “and I want to see that change.” 

Atkins, 44, is campaigning on interconnected issues: housing, wages, climate and transportation. Boulder’s challenges must be worked on in tandem, he said, if we want to make progress.

“The methodology of doing one thing and seeing how it goes doesn’t work because it’s in a vacuum,” he said. “Wages affect housing, transportation affects housing,” and housing and transportation affect the climate.

A better system would be built on interconnectedness, Atkins believes, with resilience baked in. At a candidate forum hosted by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, Atkins answered a question about how governments should pivot in times of crisis.

“We shouldn’t need to pivot,” he said. “That’s reactive. We need to be more proactive. We need to build resilience on all fronts: housing resilience, climate resilience, mental health.”

Resilient systems are ones that work to address immediate needs and that anticipate future ones, Atkins said. He would like Boulder to incorporate short-, medium- and long-term goals in its approaches. 

For example: In addressing housing and homelessness, a short-term goal would be to provide alternatives to unsheltered living. Mid-range goals could be reducing the regulatory burden for building new housing while shoring up eviction prevention and rental assistance so “people are less likely to lose their homes.” A long-term goal would be the eventual expansion of attached housing throughout the city. 

Most important, Atkins said, Boulder’s approaches need to work for everyone. He rejects zero-sum arguments. The belief that everyone benefits from helping the most vulnerable is woven throughout his platform, from transportation to crime prevention.

“I believe we can function in a different society,” he said. “The people who tell you we can’t are the ones benefiting, who would still benefit just fine if things were changed. The pie is big enough for all of us already. Some people have bigger slices, and those people don’t necessarily need those bigger slices to have the life they have. 

“Wanting your neighbor to do well makes your life better.” 

He is aware of how pie-in-the-sky that can sound to people who have been conditioned to accept “manufactured scarcity.” But a new way of looking at things is possible and, Atkins argues, necessary.

“Anything that’s in place can be changed,” he said. “It’s not idealistic if we actually work on it. But if we don’t try, nothing changes.”

Top work plan priorities

  • Safe outdoor spaces for the unhoused
  • Higher minimum wage for Boulder
  • Expand and make permanent a direct cash assistance program
  • Core Arterial Network (transportation focus on bike, bus and pedestrian facilities)

Why you might want to vote for Atkins

Atkins is empathic and unfailingly kind. He engages deeply with criticism and thoughtfully considers the opinions and positions of those with whom he disagrees. He holds firm to his beliefs without denigrating or dismissing others.

As mentioned above, Atkins’ experiences as a renter, and specifically as a tenant of the city’s affordable housing, would add perspectives that are currently lacking on City Council. (Two other renters are running this year: Taishya Adams and Aaron Gabriel Neyer. A third candidate, Jacques Decalo, lives with family.)

His time on the Elevate Boulder task force gave Atkins valuable insight into how the city government works. It is exceedingly rare that someone who has used public assistance is actually given a seat at the table to make decisions. 

Why you might not want to vote for Atkins

While his overarching values are clear, Atkins’s policy knowledge and proposals can be a bit thin.

“I believe in meeting people where they’re at, asking people what they need,” Atkins says in response. “In some cases I’m policy-light because I want to do what’s right by people, not tell them what’s right. I want to take fact-based, evidence-based solutions as a place to start. If the people being impacted say it works, let’s give it a shot.”

In meetings with political groups doling out official endorsements, Atkins often heard that he didn’t have enough of the right kind of experience to serve on City Council — criticism he wholeheartedly rejects.

“People who aren’t the typical candidate, who haven’t gone through all the boards and commissions, have a fresh set of eyes on things,” he said. If only people with certain experiences and backgrounds are supported by the political establishment, “we’re always going to get the same candidates, again and again.”

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Atkins on the Issues

Housing + Development

When discussing Boulder’s housing woes, politicians frequently say we can’t house everyone. Atkins takes the opposite view. 

“I believe everyone can be in Boulder who wants to live here,” he said. “You don’t want it to be like Denver with skyscrapers. Okay. Let’s still try to build housing.”

That includes “building more housing in general,” but also different types of housing; primarily the “missing middle” of attached housing: duplexes, triplexes, etc. Atkins also believes in building things more quickly by streamlining the “planning, permitting and approval processes.”

He would also like to adjust Boulder’s cash-in-lieu fees that developers pay instead of building the required affordable housing. He understands why staff sometimes prefer the fee; it has resulted in more than twice the required amount of affordable housing being built. But Atkins is a firm believer in mixed-income developments.

“It comes back to fostering a community,” he said. “I’ve seen time and time again if you have a neighborhood where there’s a mixture of people living together, the area they live in is more vibrant. It brings in different solutions, different cultures.” 

Quick q’s:

Do you support rent stabilization? Yes

Do you support the City Council’s recent vote to increase occupancy limits? Yes

Did you support SB213 (the failed state bill requiring cities to allow certain types and amounts of housing, overriding local control)? Yes


Atkins, who participates in mutual aid with people experiencing homelessness, believes Boulder needs more and more varied services, including alternatives to unsheltered homelessness such as sanctioned encampments, tiny homes, safe parking sites, multiple shelters throughout the county and options for people with substance use issues.

“We need concurrent approaches,” he said. “We can’t assume a single solution.”

Atkins would also like to see a single day-and-night shelter rather than separate locations. (There are hurdles to that. Boulder Shelter for the Homeless is currently barred from offering day services, the result of an agreement reached to allay neighborhood concerns when it opened.)

Vacant office spaces offer opportunity for transitional housing, Atkins said. They could be converted into cooperative living spaces with individual bedrooms and shared bathroom and dining spaces. 

“All my [proposed] housing comes with services: food, clothing, mental health services,” Atkins said. “You can’t just put someone in housing and expect them to do well.” 

He would also like to see more collaboration with neighboring towns. 

“We’ve got to look at things collaboratively,” he said. “Even if the thought process is that it doesn’t impact” those cities, “it does. If Boulder is overwhelmed, guess where those people are going to go? They’ll drift into Lafayette” or Louisville.

Atkins is critical of encampment removals. He acknowledges the impacts to public spaces caused by unsheltered living, but believes the ultimate solution is to give people living in parks somewhere else to go. 

“There’s plenty of research that talks about how harmful sweeping people is,” he said. “I want to see solutions that are focused on every person. People don’t set out to camp in the park. There’s no joy in that; it’s a matter of survival. 

“Meeting the immediate needs of those who are homeless creates a better space for everybody. What we’re doing now is not working, so why not try something new?”

Quick q’s:

Do you support the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure? No

Should the city dedicate more of its own money to services and solutions for homelessness? Yes

Would you continue the city’s current encampment removal strategy? No

Public Safety, Policing + Oversight

The focus on public safety in this election, which is really about unsheltered homelessness, is missing empathy for the unhoused, Atkins feels. He has plenty for the people who are upset about the state of public spaces, although he disagrees with them on how best to improve conditions.

“I understand people are fearful of things,” he said. “We can alleviate everyone’s fear by giving [the unhoused] a place to go.”

“Things that seem scary in practice lead to better results,” Atkins elaborated. “We have evidence that safe camping spaces in Denver reduced crime in the neighborhoods. People were concerned about homeless people living next to them; those fears never came to fruition.

“I know people will be inconvenienced and uncomfortable, but I don’t want people to feel fear.”

When it comes to crime generally, Atkins “believe[s] strongly” in preventing crime through strengthening the social safety net.

“It’s not about defunding the police,” he said. “It’s about allocating funds where they’re needed and getting police out of mental health and other things that [they were not] trained to tackle.”

Quick q’s:

Should the Police Oversight Panel have more say over officer discipline in the case of misconduct? Yes

Do you support the city council’s decision to remove Lisa Sweeney-Miran from the Police Oversight Panel over her public criticism of the police? No

Do you think the police budget is too high? Yes


Atkins is less familiar with the city’s spending than other issues. “That’s something I need to keep studying up on,” he admitted. “However, I do believe I can look at systems and processes and that could potentially free up funds.”

What he does know is that he would like to see the city move away from its reliance on sales taxes and reduce the administrative burdens for accessing public benefits. 

“I see every day how many hoops I have to jump through to be poor,” he said. “I was approved to get three months of rent assistance. I had to apply for each of those months separately. I had to submit the same paperwork each time: Nothing was saved and was on file. I had to sign up for budgeting [and] financial responsibility” classes, which he found insulting and out-of-touch with the financial reality of lower-income people. 

“When you don’t have enough money to pay your bills,” he said, “there’s no budget to implement.”

Atkins’s ideal city budget would focus on basic needs first, including permanent and ongoing direct cash assistance programs. He points to the success of similar programs all over the world in lifting people up, economically, physically and mentally.

“The most successful was the Stockton” pilot in California, he said. “Participants spent money on basic needs. In some cases, people took a day off work and applied for another job. People took classes. People moved to a better home. 

“When people have that sense of security, they can advance their life. When you feel less stress and anxiety from barely being able to survive, you can breathe. I know that personally.”

Quick q:

Do you support the sales tax extension and arts funding bill on this year’s ballot? No

Transportation + Parking

Transportation is one of Atkins’s more comfortable subjects. He is a frequent user of all modes of travel: car, bike and bus. 

Given the dominance of car infrastructure, Atkins would like to see Boulder significantly step up its focus on bikes and buses on and beyond the Core Arterial Network. He is a fan of road diets (reducing the number of car travel lanes), protected bike lanes that are fully separated from cars and eliminating slip lanes that allow cars to make a right turn without fully stopping.

“It makes all modes of transportation safer, including cars,” he said. “It reduces car crashes, too, by reducing speed. When things are safer, people bike more, bus more, that one lane actually gets faster in the long run for people who have to go by car or choose to go by car.

“A car accident is going to slow you down a lot more.”

For transit, Atkins believes the best way forward is regional collaboration. He points to the progress made on bus rapid transit to Longmont accomplished by Aaron Brockett and other area mayors.  

“Trying to get federal things to change from the top down is much harder,” he said. “If municipalities start working together to say this works better for us, it incentivizes the federal government to change.”

One final issue Atkins addresses is predatory ticketing, booting and towing of cars at Boulder’s affordable housing developments. Although the city, then the state, passed some protections against predatory towing in recent years, Atkins said he frequently saw his neighbors be charged for not properly displaying their parking permits — even when lots were two-thirds empty.

“There’s been some work on that at the state, but it’s not enough,” he said. “I know someone who had been booted eight times,” costing hundreds of dollars. “That was a very negative experience.”

Quick q’s:

Would you support a tax or fee to increase public transit frequency and services? “I would support a mill levy” property tax. (A mill is one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value.)

Do you support eliminating minimum parking requirements for new housing developments? Yes

These profiles take hours of work: interviews, attending public events, fact-checking candidate claims. If you value this in-depth information, please consider paying for it.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. “Road diets” are recipes for congestion, which does not increase safety, but increases stress. I sometimes wonder if the people who think up transportation gizmos actually ride bikes AND drive cars. The “protected lane” on Folsom is actually a hazard to bikes, in my opinion, and I think there has been one cyclist fatality on that stretch. The white plastic pole insanity is beneath comment. Trying to slow traffic through clutter and confusion is not wise.

    NOTE: The link to donate to Boulder Beat does not seem to work for me.

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