Bedrooms: A ‘sensible, measured step’
By Kurt Nordback. Also published as a guest opinion in the Daily Camera on October 12, 2021.
"Boulder currently imposes rigid occupancy limits of no more than three or four unrelated people living in a single home, no matter the size or number of bedrooms. What, you have a five-bedroom house? Sorry, still no more than three — or sometimes four — unrelated occupants.
In the upcoming election, voters have an opportunity to reform this outdated and exclusionary law, to allow more efficient use of our existing housing.
The Bedrooms Are For People ballot initiative would continue to limit occupancy, but would inject some rationality into the limits by scaling them with the number of bedrooms. A three-bedroom home would allow four unrelated residents; a four-bedroom home would allow five unrelated, and so on. This would allow one couple per home to share a room.
The measure also clarifies what constitutes a bedroom. In particular, a bedroom must be a minimum of 70 square feet; it must be accessible from public space — that is, not from another bedroom — and it must have two points of egress (usually a door and a large window).
It’s a simple and measured change, but it would provide significant benefits in the way of housing security, affordability, and the vitality of our city.
Anyone who has struggled to afford a home in Boulder knows a room in a shared dwelling is by far the cheapest market-rate housing option available in Boulder. Some people may share housing simply for the sense of community, but the vast majority share because it’s economical. I did this myself, first renting a room in a shared house, then later buying a house and sharing it with friends in order to afford the mortgage. By giving security and legal rights and responsibilities to those who share housing, BAFP provides significant benefits to many Boulder residents who are at the lower end of the income spectrum and are not eligible for or lucky enough to get into the affordable housing program.
Bedrooms Are For People also benefits homeowners, in two major ways. First, it allows those wishing to share their homes with housemates — as my wife and I formerly did, and may do again as we age — more flexibility in living arrangements, and ensures that no matter the size of their house, they can use it efficiently. This will keep more homeowners, especially those on fixed incomes, in their homes.
Second, as pointed out in an article in Shelterforce magazine, by allowing more efficient use of the rental housing stock, sensible occupancy limits reduce the pressure on the single-family housing stock, making more homes available for owner-occupants.
It’s been suggested that BAFP will result in landlords adding bedrooms to homes willy-nilly. We can test that assertion by looking at dwellings that already have an occupancy limit of four unrelated people. Most residents want their own bedroom, so if the assertion were true, then there should be no rentals left in these limit-4 areas with fewer than four bedrooms.
So what does the data show? There are around 16,000 total dwelling units in Boulder that today have valid rental licenses and an occupancy limit of four, and over 14,000 have fewer than four bedrooms.
In other words, all the other zoning restrictions that limit building — such as setbacks and floor-area caps — as well as simple economics and people’s desires for how they want to live, combine to mean landlords aren’t adding bedrooms even when the occupancy allows it. That principle won’t change under BAFP.
BAFP obviously won’t solve all our housing problems, nor does it aspire to. But it’s a sensible, measured step that will bring housing security to untold numbers of Boulderites who are just struggling to live in this town. This is why the measure has gained endorsements from a wide range of civic organizations including the Emergency Family Assistance Association, Out Boulder County, 350 Colorado, the Boulder Area Labor Council, the Boulder Chamber, and the Sierra Club.
Please join me in voting YES on ballot measure 300, Bedrooms Are For People."
Kurt Nordback grew up in the Univesity Hill neighborhood. He is a software engineer and an advocate for environmental protection, housing access, and an equitable city.