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Bedrooms should be for people

"Guest Opinion" published in the Daily Camera on June 21, 2020.


We’re part of the volunteer team that hopes to bring common-sense reform to Boulder’s home occupancy laws because we believe bedrooms should be available to all people. For decades, our city has restricted housing opportunities by making it illegal for more than three unrelated people to live together in most parts of town. The initiative proposed by Bedrooms Are For People would help people right now, without additional taxpayer funding or new development.


Decades of decisions and market forces have resulted in Boulder becoming increasingly unaffordable and unworkable for most people. People seeking to remain part of our community are forced out, not by economics alone, but because our current laws arbitrarily restrict housing options for those who are not related. Bedrooms Are For People came together because we have seen and experienced how this law negatively impacts people across our community. We have the power to make our community better — to give people a fair choice and fair chance to live, work, and play in this place we all love.


Boulder’s current laws mean that in most parts of town, no more than three unrelated people can live together, regardless of house size. Our proposal would create a modest change — allowing one person to live in each bedroom, plus one additional person in the home. This would give flexibility in housing options, such as one couple sharing a room.


In practice, four people would be allowed to live together in a three-bedroom home. Our measure would overturn the current occupancy limit, while still protecting the safety of residents by requiring that all relevant building safety codes apply, including requirements that each bedroom be at least 70 square feet and have two points of egress, such as a door and a window.


Boulder’s housing task forces in 1999 and 2014 both recommended increases in home occupancy limits as one of many tools to address our decades-long housing crisis. Our ballot measure would ensure that every person in Boulder has an equal opportunity to live in a legally defined bedroom. Reforming occupancy limits is one of many steps that Boulder must take to support the diversity of people we want to welcome into and keep within our community.


Our ballot proposal to reform Boulder’s occupancy limits will benefit individuals and the community at large. If approved by voters in November, thousands of people in our community would no longer face the constant threat of eviction simply for living together. Building new housing often has little neighborhood support, so we should make better use of our existing housing stock. Supporting equal opportunities for housing will strengthen our safety net for vulnerable people in our community.


Former councilman Andrew Shoemaker, who has criticized our proposal, sat on the City Council in 2015 and supported increased enforcement of the city’s occupancy limits. The change would have increased the number of evictions of vulnerable people and raised fines for tenants, not landlords. We remember, because many of the people on our team attended the meeting with more than 100 people who spoke at council against penalizing people for living together.


Mr. Shoemaker raises concerns about hypothetical worst-case scenarios. Building safety codes and Boulder’s building regulations already limit the ability of landlords or homeowners to subdivide rooms or replace common areas with bedrooms.


Shoemaker also suggests that increasing the supply of rooms available in Boulder would increase rents, a theory not supported by evidence or by economics. The City Council has numerous tools to enforce potential household-specific issues around parking, property maintenance, and noise. Our community must address potential impacts on a case-by-case basis, not outlaw or penalize more affordable, shared, lower-carbon ways of living.

Bedrooms Are For People is a charter amendment rather than a change to municipal law because we believe that exclusionary housing systems must be permanently dismantled in the city’s foundational document.


Our elected officials have repeatedly failed to ensure that Boulder has fair and affordable housing options, but our community has the power to make that change. Boulder’s occupancy rules discriminate against non-traditional households by deciding who is allowed to live with whom.


The law needs to be struck down — and with your support and your vote, it finally will be. Join thousands of Boulder voters who support Bedrooms Are For People by signing our petition to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.


— Chelsea Castellano and Eric Budd are part of the volunteer organizing team for Bedrooms Are For People (www.bedroomsareforpeople.com), a grassroots campaign to reform Boulder’s home occupancy limits.


"Guest Opinion" published in the Daily Camera on June 21, 2020.

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