Occupancy Reform Will Receive a Council Vote August 17, 2023

The City of Boulder can increase housing security and provide legal homes for more people by reforming the Boulder occupancy limit in BRC 9–8–5(a) through a City Council vote on August 17. The Limit currently permits no more than three unrelated people to live together in most Boulder housing—even on very large lots in rural and estate residential zones, and even in large houses with many bedrooms.

Young Sierra Club members strategize about occupancy reform, July 27, 2002

For more than two decades, Boulder City Council has been unwilling to reform Boulder’s occupancy limit–among the most restrictive in the country. In 2021, a young, diverse group of residents brought the matter to a head by placing the Bedrooms Are For People initiative on the ballot (BAFP). Had it passed, this ballot initiative would have increased the number of unrelated people who could have lived together to the number of bedrooms in a house or apartment plus one. For example, a three-bedroom house could have had four legal occupants, and a four-bedroom house could have had five. One of the arguments against BAFP, forcefully repeated many times, was that investors would add bedrooms to their properties in order to increase the number of tenants to whom they could rent, and thus increase their profit. BAFP narrowly lost by a vote of 48-52%.

This City Council, elected in 2021, made reform of the occupancy ordinance a priority. They pledged to evaluate this issue again, understanding that it is particularly important to young people, people of color, and those who have difficulty affording housing and who are willing to have more roommates. This is NOT  a do-over of BAFP, nor is it an override of the will of the people: City staff has done outreach to the public on different solutions, the relevant boards have given their advice, and on August 17, 2023, the City Council will vote on whether to increase the occupancy limit per dwelling unit to:

  • Five persons citywide,
  • Three persons and any of their children by blood, marriage, or guardianship, including foster or adopted children, and
  • Three persons in small efficiency units.

The Council packet (155 pages) for August 17 is full of detail about the issue. Community members were invited to answer survey questions on the issue, reported at length starting on p. 25 of the packet. What is striking is that a majority of homeowners wanted to maintain the restrictions, whereas 80% of renters and 83% of people ages 34 and under wanted to increase the number of people who could share a home together.

Increasing the permitted number of people who can live together has many advantages:

  • It responds to the needs of young people who are so essential to the health and vibrancy of our community. They have told us this is important to them.
  • Adding additional housing in this way could mitigate the jobs-housing imbalance.
  • Increasing occupancy provides more affordable housing choices for people of all ages, races, and incomes.
  • Increasing housing options creates more workforce housing in the city and reduces the need for in-commuting, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and thus slowing the rate of climate change.
  • Many tenants currently live quietly in rentals with more people than what is legally allowed. Increasing the occupancy limit would give these folks security that City inspectors will not force an eviction.

How you can affect the outcome

Email Council using this form. Choose “Occupancy Limits” for the topic, then write your comments to Council about the proposed change.

Speak at the public hearing on August 17.   Public comment will likely occur sometime after 7:00 PM, as there is a fairly long consent agenda. Occupancy reform is Item 5A, the only matter set for public hearing. If you wish to speak at the public hearing, you must sign up in advance here, no later than 2:00 PM the day before the meeting. You will be asked to indicate on the Open Comment & Public Hearing forms if you will be speaking “virtually” or “in-person.” In-person speakers will speak first, and virtual speakers will follow. All speakers will be listed in the order in which they signed up. All speakers will have the option to change their location preference if needed by contacting the City Clerk’s Office at cityclerksoffice@bouldercolorado.gov

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