Calling on Boulder’s white, straight allies
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
By Neesha Regmi Schnepf. Also published in the Daily Camera on July 29, 2020.
All of us may be citizens of Boulder, but it is clear that we are not equally valued. Under the guise of protecting neighborhoods from “rowdy students,” Boulder’s city government discriminates against non-traditional families.
Intentionally or not, Boulder’s “relationship test” for home occupancy imposes a patriarchal, religious, and white supremacy worldview onto our residents. The “Bedrooms Are For People” campaign seeks to reform this by basing occupancy limits on the number of bedrooms within a home, rather than the identities of the people who live within it.
The “Bedrooms Are For People” ballot initiative offers an excellent chance for the affluent whites of Boulder to be as anti-racist as their yard signs suggest. It’s very easy to say “Black lives matter,” but it is much more powerful to stand in support of letting Blacks and other people of color live in Boulder in households of their choosing.
Indeed, the notion of a home housing a nuclear family separate from other relatives, friends, or families is a very post-1950 European American concept. It’s a notion that colored communities often do not live by and it’s a notion that enables white America to continue preventing us from having equal housing opportunities.
My grandma, Ambika Regmi, lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, in a property that has belonged to my family for centuries. My grandma is the only Regmi who lives on the property. She rents parts of her home out to three other families and there is always a student in her home who helps with her cooking in exchange for having a bedroom while pursuing college in Kathmandu.
My grandma, the student, and the three families together form a community of 16 people. Yes, the Regmi property is a large home, but it also is a home where bedrooms are for people, and where living together helps both my grandma and her tenants all avoid poverty. Can Boulder say the same thing about its large homes?
Along with helping people of color better afford living in Boulder, “Bedrooms Are For People” is a chance for all the rainbow-clad allies to take a real stand in support of Boulder’s LGBTQ communities. Remember how same-sex marriage wasn’t even nationally legal until 2015?
Boulder’s current family-centric occupancy law wasn’t just made to safeguard neighborhoods from students: It was made to prevent queers from safely owning homes with the same respect, dignity, and economic ease as their heterosexual, gender-conforming neighbors.
Given Boulder’s occupancy limits of three unrelated people, or of a “family” plus two, a same-sex couple could only rent to one person to help offset the mortgage. Meanwhile, hetero families could rent to two people, regardless of how big their families actually were.
Marriage should not be a requirement for affordable housing, and affordable housing remains a critical issue to Boulder’s LGBTQ. In 2018, Out Boulder County conducted a comprehensive survey of Boulder’s LGBTQ community. The survey found that 16 percent of Boulder’s LGBTQ people live on less than $25,000 a year.
The generally accepted definition of affordable housing is housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a person’s income. For 16 percent of Boulder’s LGBTQ community, renting their bedrooms would only be affordable if their rents were $694 per month or less.
Furthermore, 2 percent of respondents for Out Boulder County’s 2018 survey were homeless. Unless the city takes action to counter the evictions caused by both the COVID-19 pandemic and Boulder’s ever-escalating rent, a higher percentage of Boulder LGBTQ people will become homeless.
It is not the role of government to decide what constitutes a family. If Boulder’s government genuinely wants to be an ally to LGBTQ and colored communities, then it is time for our City Council to embrace both democracy and diversity by placing on the November ballot the “Bedrooms Are For People” initiative to center occupancy law on the structure of a home, rather than its inhabitants.
Everyone who contributes to Boulder’s community should be able to afford living in Boulder. Boulder’s City Council has a choice to make: to be a meaningful ally or to stay comfortable basking in straight, white privilege.
Neesha Regmi Schnepf is a biracial and bisexual geophysicist who lives in South Boulder and volunteers with the “Bedrooms Are For People” campaign.