By Firemark Foundry and Boulder Beat News. Originally published in the VoteBoulder Boulder Voter Guide on October 11, 2021.
"The ballot language, in plain English:
Should Boulder change its current occupancy limits — 3 or 4 unrelated persons per home, no matter its size — to be tied to the number of bedrooms? Occupancy of unrelated persons citywide would then be equal to the number of bedrooms plus one person. (So a three-bedroom house could hold four unrelated people, a four-bedroom house five people, and so on.)
What you need to know
Boulder restricts the number of unrelated adults who can live together. Depending on the density of the area, three or four unrelated adults can legally share a home, regardless of its size.
3 unrelated persons in these zones: P, A, RR, RE, RL (68.4% of city land)
4 unrelated persons in these zones: MU, RM, RMX, RH, BT, BC, BMS, BR, DT, IS, IG, IM, IMS (30.6% of city land)
Any number of family members can live together, and families may have two non-related people living with them. The city also has an expansive definition of family that includes relations by blood, marriage or adoption.
The city also exempts co-ops. More than 1,200 properties were also grandfathered in when current occupancy limits were put in place in 1998.
Occupancy limits are common throughout the United States, particularly in college towns as a way to mitigate the impacts of student populations on other residents and local housing markets. Some states and cities have outlawed occupancy based on familial status (see more below).
What about affordability?
Both sides claim affordability: Opponents say increased occupancy will lead to higher rents, and supporters say sharing homes offers more affordable options. Comprehensive research on occupancy limits and affordability is scarce, but most studies acknowledge that sharing homes does reduce costs.
One oft-cited report out of Denver, which compared occupancy regulations across 50 U.S. cities, confirmed this.
'We have not found a correlation between increasing occupancy limits and higher home prices,' wrote Laura Schwartz, in response to emailed questions. 'It’s usually the opposite. Being able to share housing costs with roommates helps lower the cost of keeping a roof over your head.'
A study in Austin found no correlation between occupancy limits and housing costs. That study was cut short before completion, according to the author.
'The extent to which affordability, as defined by median or average rent, was impacted was too difficult a question to answer given the short window,' wrote Brian Kelsey in response to emailed questions.
Council could make changes to the new occupancy ordinance so long as the intent of the voters is honored. Staff and elected officials are already discussing ways to mitigate impacts, from aforementioned nuisance ordinances to prohibitions on additional bedrooms being built specifically for the purpose of increasing rental income.
Ames, Iowa, limits the number of rental properties in a given geographic area. Boulder may consider this; the city already employs saturation limits on accessory dwelling units"