Boulder City Council Accelerates Housing Occupancy Discussion

Boulder’s strict housing occupancy limits and whether changes should be made to them will be reviewed in early 2020. During a study session Tuesday night, Boulder City Council agreed to jump-start the public process. KGNU’s Roz Brown says the accelerated timetable is related to a failed effort to place the issue on the 2020 ballot.

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“This comes with a deadline and if we don’t do our jobs and come up with something the community can get behind, then the community will do it for us,” said councilmember Adam Swetlik.

Two of over a hundred attendees at a Bedrooms Are For People march in September 2020. (Photo by Neal Bullock)

Swetlik wants to begin discussions of occupancy limits before the group, Bedrooms Are For People keeps its promise to start collecting signatures to place the issue on the 2021 ballot. Frustrated by council’s failure to act – the group vowed to reform Boulder’s rule that prohibits more than three unrelated people from living together by letting citizens vote on the issue. Councilman Mark Wallach agreed that discussions should be moved to the beginning of next year.

“To some extent we suggested in our discussions with Bedrooms Are For People folks that if they held back we would be prepared to put this on the agenda so it’s probably time to have the conversation,” said Wallach.

The Bedrooms group collected signatures for the issue during the pandemic, only to learn the city had given them the wrong number and the wrong date for submission. More recently a motion to suspend occupancy limits during the pandemic failed on a four-to-four council vote, despite a letter from the governor urging the temporary suspension. Councilmember Junie Joseph said the pandemic must be a consideration in moving forward.

“I think we’ve talked about this so many times, we’re in a pandemic, people are losing jobs and homes and we’re going to have to start thinking more creatively about getting people housed so they’re not living on the streets,” said Jospeh. “I think this an equity and exclusion issue for this community.”

City Attorney Tom Carr was asked how Boulder compares to similar cities with occupancy limits.

“We are probably near the lower end for occupancy limits,” said Carr. “The last place I worked was Seattle and the rule there was that eight unrelated people could live together.”

Rules like occupancy are designed to protect the health and safety of the community. But the Bedrooms group and many other citizens have argued for years that Boulder’s rules are “discriminatory and oppressive.”