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Bedrooms are for Racial Justice

Updated: Oct 17

By Neesha Regmi Schnepf. Also published as a letter in the Boulder Weekly on October 14, 2021.


"Voting YES on Bedrooms are for People (BAFP) is an unequivocally progressive stance. Voting yes is the action of an ally to Boulder’s LGBTQ and black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) communities. It’s not necessary to review the racist origins of single-family zoning laws to see this: we can simply examine what is happening in Boulder today.


1) There is inequality in whose voice is heard. Many supporters of BAFP currently live over-occupied and quietly exist under the radar. The threat of eviction prevents them from sharing their experiences in op-eds and council meetings.


It is not allyship when privileged people make decisions on behalf of the marginalized; allyship depends on listening to marginalized groups and including them in the policy-making process. The fear of reprisal and eviction prevents many from advocating for their housing needs, so BAFP works with local groups that understand their members’ needs and amplify their voices. The groups that have endorsed the BAFP measure include Boulder Housing Coalition, Emergency Family Assistance Allocation, Standing up for Racial Justice, Out Boulder County, Boulder Area Labor Council, and United Campus Workers Colorado.


2) Why should our government allow one type of household to be exempted from occupancy laws when others are not? For decades, the federal government has protected traditional families. The City of Boulder’s occupancy law expands on this preferential treatment by placing a strict occupancy limit on unrelated people. Unfortunately, for many people wanting to live in Boulder the dream of being able to marry, have children, and own a home for their nuclear family is just that: a dream. The picture painted by the 2020 Census and the fact that BIPOC are significantly less likely to be able to afford a home and more likely to be a single parent, shows that Boulder’s occupancy law promotes racial segregation.


The occupancy law also hits LGBTQ communities. Living with other adults beyond my partner is an important aspect in not only affording my home, but also in having a built-in community that people with a happy, traditional family may take for granted. Bedrooms are for People would reduce the disparity between traditional families and households like mine by basing occupancy law on the number of bedrooms in a house, not on the relationships of a home’s inhabitants.


3) There exists unequal enforcement and ongoing segregation. By maintaining such a strict occupancy limit in a city where the cost of living continues to rise, Boulder is guaranteeing that this law will be commonly broken. For decades, BIPOC have pointed out the consistent, and deeply problematic, unequal enforcement of laws. People may give the benefit of the doubt to neighbors that “fit in”, while closely scrutinizing and reporting on others who may not.


As our city works to make policing safer and more equitable, we also need to consider whether our current laws enable the removal of certain classes of people. Community groups endorsing BAFP understand that reforming Boulder’s occupancy law will help the most vulnerable in our communities live more securely and more stably. Maintaining “neighborhood character” should be rooted in compassion, not segregation.


4) Requiring bedrooms to remain empty during a housing crisis is a gross injustice. Supply and demand is the most basic principle guiding capitalistic markets. In Boulder, demand for a bedroom exceeds the supply of legal bedrooms and BAFP is an easy way to ameliorate the situation without building any new bedrooms or houses. Indeed, Emergency Family Assistance Allocation endorsed BAFP stating: 'the most common thing for families to do when they lose housing is to double up with another family—which is often illegal under Boulder’s current laws.' Let’s make it legal for Boulder residents to 'double up' when they need to.


The Bedrooms are for People measure diminishes codified preferences for specific types of households, legalizes the accommodations that working-class and low-income residents need, and embodies Boulder’s lofty goal of becoming more inclusive, tolerant, and progressive. Vote 'yes' for justice and progress in Boulder, VOTE YES for Measure 300 Bedrooms are for People."


Neesha Regmi Schnepf / Boulder

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