“Let’s make housing that works for people.” So says Eric Budd, an organizer for Bedrooms Are For People (BAFP), an all-volunteer housing justice organization in Caddis Collaborative’s hometown of Boulder, Colorado.
Here in Boulder, issues around exclusionary housing laws are not abstract. It doesn’t matter how big the house is or how old the residents are or whether the home is owner-occupied: four (or more) unrelated people can’t live together even if there are a sufficient number of bedrooms.
“These exclusionary laws are impacting real people here today in our community,” says Chelsea Castellano, another BAFP organizer.
Despite existing laws, some people are choosing to exceed occupancy limits. These Boulder citizens, who are housing-insecure and vulnerable, are living in fear illegally. “They want to live together,” says Castellano, “and their preferences should be honored.”
Because these citizens live in the shadows, they are in a particular bind. They face legal consequences if their situation becomes known, so they can’t participate in public processes and can’t talk to their neighbors about their situation. Those who are renters face even more difficulty as their precarious legal situation undermines their status with their landlord and they can’t go to anyone for help.
BAFP’s primary goal is to make the change Boulder needs to see: to advocate for and pass city legislation that would allow one person living in each bedroom of a home. The group’s proposed ballot initiative reads: “Shall the City of Boulder expand access to housing by allowing all housing units to be occupied by a number of people equal to the number of legal bedrooms, plus one additional person per home, provided that relevant health and safety codes are met?”
In addition to working at the local level, BAFP is part of a regional and national movement for housing justice. A number of communities along Colorado’s Front Range are working on these issues. In fact, YIMBY Denver recently had success moving city regulations from two unrelated people living together to five. Nationally, YIMBY Action, based in California, is promoting housing justice issues.
The need for new housing regulation is particularly strong in very desirable cities with economic growth and new jobs. Boulder meets this definition: business is booming, and the city’s affluence makes it very hard for low-income and moderate-income people to find affordable housing.
Boulder’s BAFP is the first effort to attempt to change occupancy limits via a citizen-led ballot initiative. Although there is “broad community support” for this change, says Castellano, there is a lack of “political will” on the city council. Thus, BAFP decided to avoid the typical legislative process and take the decision directly to voters.
“We’re focusing on the people part,” says Budd. “City Council can focus on the building part.”
As Castellano points out, “we can make housing more equitable and affordable right now with the housing that exists today.” Boulder has existing housing that could be used to meet more of the current demand, but the city’s policies don’t allow people to legally live together in that housing.
As the BAFP website says, “It’s a small but mighty step in the right direction.” Caddis Collaborative agrees. BAFP is working hard to get enough petition signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot. Signatures are due June 4. We encourage our readers who live in Boulder to sign the online petition. Those outside Boulder can contribute to the effort through financial donations.
Above: Citizens unite together in support of Bedrooms Are For People. Photo by Neal Bullock, Studio Half Caff.