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Oct. 11—By Lisa Nelson
There is a concept in Buddhist thought called foolish compassion. This occurs when, in an effort to ease suffering in the world, compassion is offered without the benefit of wisdom. The Bedrooms Are For People initiative is a perfect example of foolish compassion. Supporters of this initiative earn our sympathy with their stories of hardship. Advocates claim that removing occupancy limits is an answer for our pressing economic, social and environmental problems. Who wouldn't want to vote for a simple feel good idea that will help so many deserving people and solve the problems ailing us?
Unfortunately, the simplistic approach of Bedrooms is deeply flawed and lacking in wisdom. It completely ignores both the reality of the vastly profitable and ever-expanding rental housing industry in Boulder and the negative impacts that will follow from unlimited occupancy. City and community leaders asked Bedrooms organizers to consider adding provisions to address these concerns, and instead of building some wisdom into their initiative, the organizers declined, instead preferring to send this reckless proposal to the voters.
I have spent the last decade working closely with a wide range of stakeholders on issues related to the impacts and regulation of the rental housing industry in Boulder. Based on my long experience in the trenches of community advocacy around these issues, there is no doubt in my mind that this initiative, as written, will cause substantial harm to our community, which is why I joined the "No On Bedroom$" committee (noonbedrooms.org).
In their endorsement of Bedrooms, the editorial board of this newspaper jokingly disregarded and minimized the prospect of negative impacts from Bedrooms while laying out a series of arguments in support of it that are completely at odds with what those of us who have been working on these issues for years know to be true.
Supporters of Bedrooms rely on the assertion that the inevitable increase in parking, noise, trash and other nuisance impacts from this initiative will be mitigated by the city's enforcement processes. This is pure wishful thinking. The city does not prioritize or adequately fund enforcement of quality of life issues. Most relevant ordinances are unenforced, unenforceable, or so weak they have no meaningful effect on the problem. This is why the University Hill neighborhood, where there are many properties currently legally housing six-to-12 residents, recently experienced over 18,000 calls for police service in two years with no noticeable improvement in conditions.
Stakeholders including the Boulder Area Rental Housing Association, CU Student Government and Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold have all urged the city to address the obstacles that stand in the way of effective enforcement of noise and nuisance issues on the Hill, yet nothing has changed even after the overwhelming continuous public health order violations last year and the March 6 riot. The nuisance enforcement system in this city is broken, and the current status of efforts to fix it is a request to the city to allocate resources to study the issue further. Good luck to anyone who lives near a rental property with chronic nuisance activity.
Occupancy is notoriously difficult to enforce, even before the free-for-all that will unfold if Bedrooms passes. A staff memo to City Council analyzing the impact on the city's ability to enforce occupancy and health and safety functions if Bedrooms were to pass concluded that significant additional resources will be required to perform basic code enforcement actions such as assessment of existing properties (the city does not currently track the number of bedrooms in dwellings), and inspection and certification of properties for conformity with life safety codes. Staff is already overburdened in their ability to perform these functions due to a heavy workload, staffing reductions and the challenges inherent in determining how many people reside at a property. This point was emphasized recently by an elected city official who told me that if concerns arise with the number of occupants living at a property, "the city cannot protect you."
Does Boulder have a housing crisis? Yes. Is Bedrooms the solution? Absolutely not. Vote NO on 300, and urge the new City Council to invest needed resources and put forward solutions informed by collaboration, compassion, and hard earned wisdom.
Lisa Nelson recently relocated to South Boulder after more than 30 years living on the Hill as a long-term renter. She serves on the Hill Revitalization Working Group and completed a term on the University Hill Commercial Area Management Commission in 2020.