Bedrooms Are For People will work to get its initiative on next year’s ballot, after road blocks derailed plans to get the item in front of voters this November. To keep the issue top of mind, the group led its first march Saturday from the Boulder County Courthouse on Pearl Street through downtown Boulder.
The initiative’s aim is to allow housing units to be occupied by the same number of people as available bedrooms, plus one, and for a total of four people to occupy a home with fewer than four bedrooms. In most of Boulder, it’s illegal to have more than three unrelated people living together, though, in some specific areas, the limit is four, according to the group’s website. Those who oppose the initiative have claimed the changes would increase housing costs and harm families, students, other residents and schools.
Boulder resident Eric Budd, a co-chair of the group, said leaders had a message to send Saturday.
“We have a specific demand for the City Council, which is to stop evictions for overoccupancy, until occupancy limits can be reformed,” Budd said. “These occupancy limits have nothing to do with health and safety. They’re just discriminatory against people. We’re also marching, because we will put the Bedrooms Are For People on the ballot in 2021. We will be starting that effort early next year.”
Students, families, seniors and people whose paychecks just haven’t kept up with Boulder’s rising living costs made up the more than 100 people participating.
Nathan Shafer, a University of Colorado Boulder journalism and media production student, was among those in the crowd. Difficulties finding housing led Shafer to be stuck in campus dorms again this semester, which is far more costly than living off-campus, Shafer said.
“It was just a really unfortunate situation,” Shafer said. “Some of my friends decided they were going to live together. They said I could stay with them, but they already had four people.”
Shafer, who works on campus as a community assistant in the dorms, said change is needed.
“I can’t afford to live in a studio. It’s really expensive to live here,” Shafer said. “The more people you have, the lower the cost. I hope this causes change so that I can be with them (friends) next year.”
Kim Murphy and Asa Hardman, of Boulder, said they understand how it feels living in fear of getting evicted. The couple and their two children live in an accessory dwelling unit — an additional unit that is separate from the main home that has a kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area. Murphy is a software developer, and Hardman is a stay-at-home dad. They needed extra income to cover their living expenses, as costs continued to grow, so the couple has been renting out their house. They live in the accessory dwelling unit in the back of the property.
Hardman said they received an eviction notice from the city in 2018.
“They said we would lose the right to have our ADU, if we didn’t vacate it,” Hardman said.
Murphy added, “That was before they changed the rule for a family to count as one of the occupants.”
“We were living in fear … they just didn’t want us to live creatively in the home we had,” Hardman said. “For us, we weren’t wealthy enough to live in Boulder without doing that (renting out their main house).”
In February, the City Council adopted an updated ordinance for accessory dwelling units, in an effort to clarify regulations.
While the family did not end up getting evicted, they wanted to stand up for the other “disenfranchised” residents.
Raffi Mercuri, Boulder County Democratic Party chairman, spoke to the crowd Saturday and reminded them of their power to vote for city leaders.
“This is a class issue,” he said. “This is an issue that impacts lower-working-class people. Look at this city. Look at the way it’s divided. Do you think people east of 28th Street get representation? No. They don’t. We need to vote these people out of office. We need to vote for people who look out for the 52% of us that have to rent here.”
Among those taking part in the march Saturday were some Boulder City Council members, including Rachel Friend, who said, “it’s been a hard year to be on this earth, this country and City Council … for me this new bedrooms community and the energy around has been the brightest spot.”
After the speeches, marchers walked from the Boulder County Courthouse on Pearl Street through downtown chanting: “Housing limits are the worst, time to put our people first!” and, “Housing is a human right!”
Bedrooms Are For People filed suit against Boulder in August, after the group was given incorrect information by city officials about filing and signature requirements. But a 20th Judicial District Court judge later ruled against the group and said they couldn’t put the initiative on the ballot. Bedrooms Are For People appealed the ruling, taking the case to the Colorado Supreme Court. In late August, the Colorado Supreme Court dismissed the case.
“That was the end of our journey this year,” Budd said. “The courts took the case up because we were absolutely wronged by the City Council. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to compel city council to do the right thing.”
Budd said the group was told it needed 4,048 signatures to get the item on the ballot. They were able to collect 7,764 signatures, but needed 8,096, the council decided.
Budd emphasized that the fight is not over yet.
“We are using this (march) as a springboard into next year,” Budd said. “We will be collecting signatures to put our measure on the ballot and probably doing other events.”