Boulder can choose compassion over exclusion

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We started the Bedrooms Are For People campaign to make Boulder a more inclusive and welcoming place to call home. We want to live in a community that is open, where people are embraced, and have equitable housing opportunities that allow everyone to thrive.

We were hoping that come November 3, we’d be able to say, “If you’re living over-occupied, you don’t have to worry anymore.” Despite the measure failing 48-52 percent, we won in a different yet paramount way. Young people, renters, and people who support social justice and climate action showed up in an off-year election and voted for change. 

We now have the first majority progressive City Council that Boulder has seen in decades. This historic victory was only possible because Bedrooms Are For People fought for a measure that would make a meaningful difference for thousands of people. The new progressive majority on Council gives us hope that moving forward, compassion will win over exclusion and social justice will win over preserving the status quo.

Six of the nine city council members endorsed Bedrooms Are For People, and believe that occupancy reforms are needed. At the first City Council meeting on Tuesday, we asked the council to initiate a city process to reform occupancy limits and to protect community members from occupancy enforcement and eviction while these reforms are being developed. Keeping vulnerable people housed is a goal we should all have. Specifically, we are advocating for a six-month suspension on occupancy enforcement on unrelated people sharing housing while longer-term reforms are being developed.

Throughout the campaign, we heard from many community members who understood the need for occupancy reforms, but did not support our exact proposal. We took those comments to heart and so did the City Council, and it is clear that any occupancy reforms considered by Council will look different from our ballot measure. We fully support the Council and the community taking a fresh look at how to address this critical housing issue and working together toward a solution where the whole community benefits from its passage. 

We are urging Council to take up reforming occupancy limits legislatively and believe that the process must include the people most impacted by these laws. The only way to get public participation by the community we are aiming to serve is to ensure they are not at risk of retaliation, enforcement, or eviction.

There is precedent for enacting moratoriums on policies while changes are in progress. Specifically relating to occupancy, the Council halted enforcing occupancy limits on cooperatives while a cooperative housing ordinance was developed.We are not asking the City to stop enforcing on nuisances or risks to health and safety. Every household, related or not, has a responsibility to adhere to the rules around noise, parking, and trash, and deserves to live in safe housing.

Yet if four related people are found to be violating nuisance rules, they get a ticket. If unrelated people are found to be violating these rules, they get an enforcement officer searching their home counting beds and inspecting the number of toothbrushes on bathroom counters. We need the city to show a good-faith effort to protect people and work urgently for permanent solutions on housing occupancy.

If you believe that people sharing housing shouldn’t have to live in fear of enforcement or eviction, please send City Council an email at council@bouldercolorado.gov. Let them know that you support City Council reforming Boulder’s exclusionary occupancy laws.

The council will be meeting on Tuesday, November 30 and will be discussing next steps to protect people sharing housing while permanent reforms are being developed. The Council hearing your support on this issue would make a big difference.

Chelsea Castellano and Eric Budd are Boulder residents and co-leads of the Bedrooms Are For People Campaign.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.