Reforming City Limits
By Aidan Kankyoku, Mark Van Akkeren, Sara Campbell, and Brad Johnson. Also published as an opinion piece in the Boulder Weekly on September 9, 2021.
As homeowners in South Boulder, we believe that renters and students have so much to bring to our community. We wish to dispel the false notion that renters and owner-occupants are incompatible. That’s why we support the Bedrooms Are For People ballot campaign to reform our city’s occupancy limits. We hope to welcome more honesty, diversity, and friendship into our neighborhoods.
Boulder is experiencing a housing crisis. Soaring rent and property prices have left hundreds of people in our city without a roof. Sixty thousand more commute in from less expensive cities nearby, creating traffic and pollution. Meanwhile, a draconian law forces thousands of bedrooms in Boulder to lie empty and leaves thousands of lower-income tenants under constant fear of eviction. From safeguarding our environment to increasing affordable housing, there are numerous benefits to lifting this occupancy restriction. Despite this, some of our neighbors fear how this measure will alter our city. We believe those fears are misplaced.
Renters have long been a crucial component of Boulder. When we think of renters, we might picture professionals in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond who are deeply committed to our Boulder community. In fact, each of us has rented a room in our own homes to such people! For instance, one of our tenants is a psychotherapist in his mid-30s who teaches at Naropa and is approaching 10 years in Boulder. Another tenant was a recently divorced woman in her 50s with a masters degree, creating a fresh start for herself with a new career in nursing.
These stories are no longer the exception. We have numerous friends who grew up in Boulder, but will never be able to buy a house here. If they choose to stay in their hometown, they will be lifelong renters. For many of them, that’s okay: Many millennials (who started turning 40 this year) are postponing their parents’ dream of marriages, mortgages, and kids, or foregoing them altogether. But Boulder’s laws have not kept up with these lifestyle trends.
Of course, people in their late teens and 20s can also be excellent neighbors and tenants. Several of us have happily lived with student tenants. One of us lives near a house of undergrad and graduate students in their 20s who are beloved on their block. For the last two years, these students have been out after every snow storm shoveling their older neighbors’ sidewalks. They safely live one person to a bedroom, but if the city found out, they would be evicted. There are homes like this all across Boulder.
Some well-intentioned Boulderites fear that the Bedrooms Are For People (BAFP) initiative will actually drive up the cost of living in Boulder. One neighbor thought that doubling the number of renters allowed in a five-bedroom house (from the current three to a proposed six) would effectively double the market rate for that house. This is unlikely to happen. Market rates already reflect the “full house” number of renters; in violation of city law, hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of housing units are filled based on the actual capacity of the house. Landlords know this—indeed, a modest five-bedroom in South Boulder would not rent for $4,000 per month otherwise. Empirical data collected by BAFP shows that five-bedroom homes already rent for as much per bedroom as four-bedroom homes in the same neighborhood.
This measure also makes Boulder more affordable for owner-occupants like us. The authors of this op-ed can only afford to own here by renting out bedrooms. The current rule infringes profoundly on our lifestyle choices. Some of us have chosen not to have kids, and wish to create family by living in community with other adults in our home. Boulder’s law discriminates against this kind of nontraditional family, which is increasingly common. We currently don’t have the freedom to choose how many people to live with in our own homes unless those people are our biological offspring!
We agree with BAFP’s dedicated housing activists when they argue that the initiative will make Boulder more affordable and inclusive. Although BAFP is just one of many necessary steps to address Boulder’s housing crisis, legalizing ways that people are already living is dear to our hearts. We want happier, friendlier, and more vibrant neighborhoods for owners and renters alike, where everyone feels comfortable to meet each other and live openly. We hope you will vote YES on this ballot measure to put forward more progressive occupancy limits this fall.