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Boulder City Council to decide on increasing number of unrelated roommates allowed to live in homes

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Posted at 4:51 PM, Aug 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-17 21:23:24-04

BOULDER, Colo. — Boulder City Council will be holding a public hearing Thursday night on a new ordinance allowing more non-related roommates to live in the same home. Some city leaders say it's to address the cost of housing in Boulder, particularly for students at the University of Colorado.

"I don't care, I'll live with 12 people if I could live in Boulder," said CU student Peyton Wilken, who does not have 12 roommates, but does split her rent with several of her friends.

The University Hill Neighborhood was abuzz with students moving in before the new school year. Wilken and her roommates said they started looking for a new place within their budget as soon as the last school year ended.

"I'm in-state," Wilken explained. "My rent is way more expensive than my tuition."

That's becoming a more common experience for students.

"They have to pay a lot for their rent, or they have to have multiple jobs to pay for their rent, or in some cases, they live in violation of those occupancy codes," said Karl Guiler, a senior policy adviser for the city of Boulder. He and his staff were tasked by City Council to find a solution.

Right now, depending on where you live in Boulder, city code allows three or four unrelated people to live in one dwelling. A new ordinance would increase that maximum number to five people. Families have no limit on how many members can live in one home.

"That's the thing that's difficult about occupancy. It doesn't have a limit for families, but it does for unrelated (people). So it does set up this awkward thing that you could have a family with 12 people in that house, but then [unrelated roommates] are limited to only 3. The impacts of that family could theoretically be much more than the three unrelated [people]," said Guiler. "We also recognize that there are concerns about having, students, that all come from different places, all each have their own cars, you know, and that that does present an impact. So it's just weighing it out."

Back in 2021, the so-called "Bedrooms are for People" initiative went on the ballot in Boulder. It would allow for as many different roommates as there were bedrooms in a house, plus one additional person. The initiative failed at the polls.

"To me, the community is the one that should be making the decision to change its mind, not six members of the council," said Boulder City Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem, Mark Wallach. He said he's in the minority of councilmembers opposed to the ordinance on the principle that the election results should be honored.

Some of the community feedback of increasing occupancy included concerns over traffic, parking and noise in local neighborhoods.

Councilmember Nicole Speer was running for council in 2021 and told Denver7 she heard different opinions from the community.

"I heard repeatedly from people who intended to vote 'no' on the occupancy reform ballot measure that were in favor of occupancy reform, and just didn’t agree with this specific instance of how to implement occupancy reform. They were concerned that despite our building codes and safety regulations, landlords would turn two-three bedroom homes into 10-12 bedroom “dormitories” where people would be charged exorbitant amounts to live in a bedroom the size of a closet," Speer said in a statement to Denver7.

It goes on to say, " Democracy worked as it was supposed to. Voters rejected a specific implementation of occupancy reform. The leaders elected by voters agreed to consider other ways to implement occupancy reform. The city did a big public engagement process, soliciting feedback from many different groups in the community on potential avenues for occupancy reform. Staff presented options based on this feedback, elected officials provided feedback on the options, and tonight our elected leaders will vote on those options."

Wallach said he's also concerned this option won't actually help students looking for affordable housing, but instead will benefit landlords and disproportionately impact higher density neighbors like University Hill and Martin Acres.

"This will be a real estate investor's dream because we have not protected affordability. For students, it is going to make it much more difficult, for families to find affordable homes that they can rent, because these homes are going to be turned into investment properties," he said.

As city leaders decide, students told Denver7 they'd be happy to see any change to make it a little easier to live there.

"Boulder is beautiful, this is the best place to live," said Wilken.

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