Editorial: Boulder should vote ‘yes’ on ‘Bedrooms Are For People’

Boulder residents have an opportunity to eliminate an outdated restriction, even as they help mitigate a chronic shortage of affordable housing.

Boulder law prohibits more than three unrelated persons from living together. This means, for example, that in a four-bedroom house, no more than three unrelated people may domicile together.

Similar restrictions exist in other communities in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado, with some considering adjustments to the standards.

Ballot Question 300 — the so-called “Bedrooms are for People” initiative — puts Boulder at the forefront of such efforts, allowing the number of people in a house to equal the number of bedrooms, plus one. Under the proposal, up to five persons would be able to live in a four-bedroom house, for example.

It sounds simple, and it is. But the change could have far-reaching — and positive — consequences.

• Escalating rents have created a hardship for renters, even as the economy has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being able to spread rent out even a little could help other renters within a home. “Our city’s occupancy laws create extra financial burden on the best of days,” according to the Bedrooms Are For People website. “In this time of crisis, individuals need to feel safe and secure in their housing situation. With some modest changes to our archaic occupancy laws, we could help ensure increased housing stability for everyone, including those who need it most.”

• Even one additional renter could help homeowners who are seeking additional income, especially seniors and retirees.

• The inventory of housing for sale in Boulder is critically low, helping to drive up prices beyond the reach of many. This makes it even harder for many to afford to buy a home, making renting the only option for living within the city.

• Environmental benefits are numerous, from reducing commuting to reducing the need for new construction.

Opponents of the initiative raise fears that some landlords will begin adding rooms to existing residences, potentially creating crowding, noise, traffic and other problems.

This is a valid concern. But the city still maintains its authority over zoning, traffic and parking, along with other ways to mitigate unforeseen outcomes.

And, significantly, Ballot Initiative 300 is a referred ordinance, not a charter amendment, giving the City Council power to amend it to address any issues.

Issues of housing affordability and supply are difficult ones, especially in a landlocked community such as Boulder. But Ballot Question 300 provides one possible solution and deserves voters’ support.