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Boulder and Denver voters asked to contemplate group living situations on November ballot

housing market
Posted at 6:37 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 20:37:37-04

DENVER — Boulder and Denver voters will consider two contrasting ballot questions in November that deal with group living situations.

One aims to expand the number of unrelated people allowed to live in a home. The other intends on limiting group living situations by reversing a prior city council decision.

Boulder Ballot Question 300

In Boulder, voters are being asked whether more people should be allowed to live in the same home to help with the issue of affordability.

Ballot Question 300 asks voters whether the city should allow housing units to be occupied by one person per legal bedroom plus one.

That means in a three-bedroom house, four unrelated adults would be able to live together. For a four-bedroom house, five unrelated adults could live together and so on.

Currently Boulder’s city ordinance allows three to four unrelated adults to live in the same unit at maximum.

“So many people in Boulder are living illegally right now technically because they’re not related, and so they’re not on the lease, they don’t have the legal rights of a tenant and so it’s to help them legalize their living situation,” said Hannah George, a volunteer with the Bedrooms are for People campaign.

George lives in a co-op with seven other people and says, even with her job, she would not be able to afford to live in Boulder without roommates. The co-op had to go through a lengthy application process and pay $600 in order to be able to exist.

She believes this ballot measure will help better accommodate different living arrangements and add more flexibility for renters.

“It’s also so people don’t have to marry or become domestic partners with our housemates to enjoy living together. I know someone who has had to do that,” George said.

She points out that nuclear families are allowed to have higher occupancy numbers, and she says this ballot question is a reasonable compromise. The group has the support of the Emergency Family Assistance Association.

MORE: Election 2021: Breaking down the three Colorado statewide ballot issues

Others say the ballot question is well-intentioned but could have unintended consequences and needs to be more carefully considered.

“Unfortunately, this measure is not very well thought through, and it really focuses mostly on single renters and is not really about families,” Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver said.

Because the ballot question does not set any type of affordable housing requirements or place any limits on rental prices, he worries this ballot question could allow property owners to charge per room and could actually drive rental prices up.

“They can charge the same amount per bedroom but put more people in. So, it doesn’t necessarily reduce rents at all. It also increases the value of land, so it makes it more tempting for speculators to come in and buy single-family homes and turn them into rentals,” Weaver said.

He’s also worried about the effect this ballot measure could potentially have on schools since more rentals could mean declining k-12 enrollment, forcing some to close down.

More than half of the dwelling units in Boulder are rentals already, and Weaver believes this measure will only put home ownership further out of reach for families.

“What this would likely do is make more rentals available for students at the expense of folks who aren’t attending CU,” he said.

Weaver agrees that something needs to be done to address affordability in the city and group living situation, however, he would like to see Boulder’s city council try to tackle the topic instead.

Denver Ballot Question 2F

In Denver, meanwhile, voters will be asked in November whether they would like to reverse a recent city council decision to expand group living situations.

The city council voted to update its ordinance in February to allow for people to legally live with four other unrelated adults in the same home and share costs.

Denver city councilwoman at-large Robin Kniech says the old ordinance was outdated and created a lot of confusion around nursing homes and other group-living situations. In some cases, buildings were not able to be used at their full capacity due to the old city limits.

By updating the rules, Kniech says the city helped make it a little easier to find housing in Denver during an unprecedented pandemic.

“Some people live together to share costs, but others live together to share care,” she said.

However, proponents of Ballot Question 2F believe the city council made the wrong decision and went against the wishes of many of their constituents by passing the new ordinance.

The group behind the ballot question, Safe and Sound Denver, says the new ordinance is disingenuous and could increase density and compromise neighborhood safety.

Denver7 reached out to campaign organizers for an interview but didn’t hear back. However, on the group’s campaign website, Safe and Sound Denver organizers say they are worried the new ordinance will bring more halfway houses to neighborhoods and say it disregards zoning codes.

"Denverites want safe and stable neighborhoods; we want children to be protected with buffer zones between schools and halfway houses, shelters, sanctioned camps; we want less density, trash, congestion, and parking problems. The Mayor and City Council didn't listen; now it's our turn,” Florence Sebern of Safe and Sound Denver in a press release.

Kniech disagrees and says if 2F passes, people could be kicked out of their homes for violating the occupancy rules.

Before the new ordinance, Denver performed between 60 and 100 investigations into home occupancies per year and found about half in violation on average.

“If 2F passes, this investigation tomorrow begins again, and people could be forced out of their home or we are still in this pandemic. That is a real outcome,” Kniech said. “This is the wrong time to eliminate housing options for our residents.”

Kniech also disagrees with Safe and Sound Denver’s allegations about more halfway houses, saying the ordinance imposes strict rules on where they can be and bans them from single-family home neighborhoods.

She also questions the group’s true intentions since the nonprofit Defend Colorado is helping fund questions 2F, 303 — which tightens the city’s camping ban rules — and 304 — which lowers Denver’s sales tax from 4.81% to 4.5%, resulting in some cuts to city services.

The group has funneled more than $540,000 into the November election alone.

“I really want her to think about the big picture on this ballot,” Kniech said.

Both Denver and Boulder voters are being asked to consider group living situations as part of a larger question over housing affordability in the state. One city it asking to expand access, the other is asking to limit these living situations.

Voters in each city will ultimately decide in November whether group living is a possible solution to the housing crunch.