By Will Walkey. Originally published and broadcast by Jackson Hole Community Radio 89.1 KHOL on April 28, 2021.
"The Jackson Town Council is reviewing a controversial housing law that bans more than three unrelated people from living together in a single-family home.
...Jackson’s discussion on this issue has been pretty tame so far compared to what’s happening in Boulder, Colorado.
Chelsea Castellano is a head organizer for Boulder’s Bedrooms are for People campaign. She wants to replace current zoning ordinances in the popular suburb of Denver with a new law that would set the maximum number of people who can legally occupy a house at the number of bedrooms in the home, plus one person.
'Our proposal is a common-sense approach to treating occupancy limits. It’s not arbitrary. It’s tied to the space in a home,' Castellano said. 'And while it’s not even as progressive as we would want it to be, we felt that it would make a meaningful impact for the community.'
Like Jackson, Boulder is facing a housing crisis. Many local workers often struggle to find a place to live, and Castellano said people knowingly break the law all the time just to put a roof over their heads.
'We have thousands of people living in our community who are living in fear,' she said, 'who are at any moment vulnerable to eviction, [and ] who don’t feel like they can participate in the community fully because they have to live in the shadows because they don’t want to lose their housing.'
A few years ago, Castellano and Eric Budd, another local activist, started knocking on doors, meeting folks outside the grocery store and fighting to change the law. Budd said a crucial difference between the housing ordinances in Boulder and Jackson is that it’s enforced a lot more in Colorado.
'They knock on the door. They essentially schedule a time to come visit the house and they will do things like count beds,' Budd said. 'They will count toothbrushes. They will make you prove that you are related to someone else.'
Also unlike Jackson, the Boulder City Council has appeared less open to changing the law. Budd said Bedrooms for People tried to get their initiative on the 2020 ballot, but the Council fought to keep it off. Things got so heated that Budd and Castellano helped sue the city in a case that was eventually dropped. But this year, they’re trying to get it on the ballot again.
“We know that our measure is not going to accomplish all of what we need to do to make Boulder inclusive and affordable,” Budd said. “But we know it’s also one of the best places to start by just allowing people to share housing costs, transportation costs, food [and] child care.”
Castellano added that she hopes Bedrooms are for People can serve as a catalyst for changing zoning laws across the country. When it comes to Jackson, she recommended that local housing advocates keep educating folks about Housing Ordinance 473.
'Honestly, I feel like when you just tell people it’s illegal for four people to live in a four-bedroom house if they aren’t related, they understand that that doesn’t make any sense,' she said. 'When we’re doing our quick pitch to people walking in and out of the grocery store, like, you don’t even need to explain why that’s crazy.'