Fight against housing inequity continues
By Chelsea Castellano and Eric Budd. Also published as a "Guest Opinion" in the Daily Camera on August 28, 2020.
For decades, Boulder’s planning rules have been discriminatory and exclusionary. One of these is home occupancy limits, which are based on residents’ relationship status rather than the number of bedrooms in a home. Bedrooms Are For People is a grassroots, volunteer-run campaign dedicated to empowering Boulder voters to reform the City of Boulder’s home occupancy laws via the campaign’s proposed 2020 ballot measure.
In most of Boulder, it is currently illegal for more than three unrelated people to live together. It doesn’t matter how big the house is, how old or young the residents are, or even if the house is owner occupied. If passed, the proposed charter amendment would change the city’s laws to allow one person to live in each legally defined bedroom of a home, regardless of whether or not those people are related to each other.
At a time when the pandemic has cost millions of people their jobs, strained budgets, and put people at risk of eviction, we must work quickly to pass this housing equity measure to keep our community whole. As we fight for inclusive housing in our community, we have faced significant challenges, from the pandemic to repeated misdirection from Boulder city officials and obstruction by the City Council.
Boulder’s City Council failed to provide a safer alternative to in-person handwritten signatures during the pandemic, despite overwhelming approval of electronic signature gathering in 2018 by Boulder voters. The council not only ignored the guidance of public health officials, but readily encouraged volunteers to collect paper signatures. Perhaps council members expected organizers to fail.
The decision negatively impacted multiple campaigns taking part in direct democracy in Boulder, including another campaign seeking to protect people from eviction. In defending his decision to not allow electronic signature gathering during a pandemic, the Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver stated: “I don’t see anything that’s here in front of us that has to get done this year … these are not things that I think are imminent.”
Nonetheless, Bedrooms Are For People’s team of more than 50 volunteers decided that it was worth risking our health to help make Boulder a more welcoming and inclusive community. We fight to protect existing residents and keep people in their homes, during the pandemic and in the long term.
After submitting nearly 8,000 signatures to the city at the end of July, we are confident that we’ve collected more than the 4,048 valid Boulder voter signatures that the city repeatedly informed us were needed by Aug. 5 to qualify for the November ballot.
Despite many public commitments by the City of Boulder to honor the published guidelines that the city repeatedly provided to several ballot initiative campaigns, a City Council majority recently decided to double down on their efforts to exclude Bedrooms Are For People from the ballot by retroactively increasing the signature requirement and making the deadline a date that had passed more than a month prior.
Given no alternatives to gain access to the ballot, Bedrooms Are For People filed a lawsuit against the City of Boulder on behalf of many thousands of Boulder residents who support direct democracy and want to vote on this measure in 2020.
On Aug. 14, a Colorado district court judge ruled that he lacked the power to correct the wrongs perpetrated by the City of Boulder giving our campaign bad information about the deadline for submitting petitions. Because only a higher legal authority can compel the city to place Bedrooms Are For People on the ballot, we appealed our case to the Colorado Supreme Court, which had the power to right this wrong, but ultimately declined to make a verdict.
The district court’s and Supreme Court’s rulings demonstrate the complexity and uncertainty surrounding the city’s petitioning process and how Boulder’s powerful political elite have weaponized those ambiguities against grassroots campaigns led by residents with fewer financial resources.
Although our volunteers anticipated pushback from Boulder’s political elite, we never expected they’d go so far as to retroactively change the rules and prevent the public from voting at all. We played by the rules and hoped that the Colorado Supreme Court would shut down Boulder’s attempt at voter suppression.
We are not done fighting on behalf of every person who currently lives in the shadows, has been evicted for safely sharing a home with others, or is being denied equal access to housing. We will continue working to dismantle structural prejudice and bigotry to build a more free, just, and equitable community.
Chelsea Castellano and Eric Budd are campaign co-leads of Bedrooms Are For People. Visit BedroomsAreForPeople.com to find out how you can support this campaign.