The proposed ordinance is so poorly written that it would unintentionally rezone all residential neighborhoods in Boulder. Bedrooms Are For People replaces traditional occupancy limits with one tenant per bedroom plus one more. It does not include a provision to ensure affordability, and it failed to include a clause that would prevent rental housing investors from subdividing rooms or scraping houses and replacing them with de facto dormitories. It happened in Austin, and it can happen here.
In 2018 voters passed a Charter Amendment that included changes to Section 54 of the municipal code. The updated code now prevents City Council from altering or modifying the basic intent of a citizens’ ordinance and takes a supermajority of councilmembers to change even small details. The intent stated in this ordinance to allow one tenant per bedroom plus one more person is extremely broad. Any attempt to create safeguards against unintended consequences would leave the city open to a lawsuit from rental property investors.
Even if the ordinance is repealed in a future election, any changes to properties made while the ordinance proposed by Bedrooms Are For People is in effect will be grandfathered in as nonconforming uses.
Removing occupancy limits opens the door to a flood of investors who will exploit Boulder’s single-family neighborhoods by replacing the house next door with a de facto dormitory that has no parking requirements, a constant turnover of renters, and no investment in neighborhood cohesion. Bedrooms Are For People allows one tenant per bedroom plus one more person. The only restriction on the number of legal bedrooms is the square footage of the house or the size of the lot. Homes will be subdivided or scraped.
More tenants bring more cars and traffic. This leads to parking problems and unsafe walking and cycling conditions for neighborhood children. In neighborhoods with a large number of student rentals, higher occupancy levels lead to nuisance problems, including trash, noise and heavily attended parties. Infrastructure in lower density neighborhoods was not built to accommodate an unlimited number of adults living in a single property.
The Bedrooms Are for People ballot initiative does nothing to make housing more affordable. Organizers of this proposal were urged to consider adding affordability provisions to the initiative, but they declined. Demand for housing in Boulder greatly exceeds the supply. There will be no reason for landlords to lower rents on bedrooms. Additional bedrooms will be rented at market rates. This will have the cumulative effect of actually raising housing costs because more bedrooms rented at market rate equals higher rent for the same property.
Bedrooms Are For People allows investors to outbid families for the limited number of homes in Boulder’s remaining modestly priced neighborhoods. Banks provide mortgages for rental properties based on the return on rent paid by legal occupants. If occupancy limits are removed, mortgages will be based on the return on rent paid by the number of legal tenants a subdivided home can accommodate, or if the house is scraped, the number of legal tenants a new structure built to maximize the number of bedrooms can accommodate. Investors can borrow more than families so they can pay more for single-family homes.
The net worth of homeowners is 40 times that of renters, and unfair competition for homes erodes the path most Americans follow to build financial security, obtain decent housing, and leave a legacy for their children. Access to homeownership creates a more equitable community, which is something Boulder must fight to protect.
For years, families with children have left Boulder for the surrounding communities in order to find affordable homes. The Bedrooms Are For People initiative would exacerbate that exodus as more homes that families could afford to rent or purchase are turned into student rentals. High home prices and rents on University HIll have already decreased enrollment at Flatirons Elementary School from 307 students in 2013 to 172 students. This neighborhood school is in danger of closing. Schools that currently have decent enrollment numbers will decline as well if the proposed ordinance passes.
University towns regulate occupancy as a way to manage the impacts of thousands of undergraduate students in a community. Peer communities such as Madison, Ann Arbor and Fort Collins all have established occupancy limits of 3-5 unrelated people. Austin allowed up to 6 unrelated people but lowered the limit to 4 after neighborhoods near the university experienced a catastrophic loss of housing for families and long-term renters.
CU provides on-campus housing for freshmen. The rest of the 24,000+ CU students compete for housing in our community. Areas with existing high density student housing such as University Hill, where houses with 8-12 occupants are currently permitted, experience heavy impacts as seen in the 18,000+ calls for police service on the Hill in the last two years, and the alcohol fueled riot on March 6, 2021.
The people who will benefit the most from this initiative are the investors who will pursue the highly profitable opportunities unlimited occupancy will provide. The incredibly lucrative student housing market allows investors to charge $10,000/month for a house that allows 6 people under current regulations. One local investor who owns a large portfolio of student rental properties recently shared that he had “yet to find the ceiling on rent rates” for his properties.
The city budget has been deeply impacted by COVID, which has led to significant budget cuts, layoffs and elimination of services. On July 20, city staff released a memo addressing the topic of regulating occupancy. The memo concludes that to ensure basic city functions such as inspections for health and safety issues, rental licensing processes, and other required administration, “successful implementation of any initiative that expands allowed occupancy will require significant additional resources” – resources the city does not currently have.
In strong markets, student housing creates another competing use for limited affordable single-family homes and can result in displacement of lower-income households. In all types of markets, student housing raises the cost of rentals. - Shelterforce.org
We are a group of people from different walks of life and different parts of the city, including homeowners and renters, who came together out of our concern about the unintended consequences the Bedrooms Are For People initiative will cause in our community.
Many of us have worked for years on housing issues in Boulder, particularly on issues related to student housing and the rental property industry. Based on our extensive knowledge and long experience with these topics, it is clear to us that Bedrooms Are For People will NOT create a more diverse, affordable or resilient community, but will irreparably damage the fabric of our neighborhoods. Vote NO on Bedroom$!