Shay Castle Profile picture
Aug 18 93 tweets 12 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
OK, occupancy.

Council voting tonight to raise the limit on how many unrelated adults can live together from 3-4 (depending on where in the city) to 5 citywide.
I've got literal years of notes, but you could just review this stellar story from 2021. It talks about how many ppl actually live together, how occupancy influences affordability, concerns with higher occupancy, and everything I will now tweet.…
This ballot measure failed, which is one of the chief complaints of opponents to increasing occupancy: Why is council doing this when the community said no?

I wrote a story about that, too:…
And here's staff's presentation:…
Already mentioned that the occupancy limits on unrelated adults will go to 5, but also changing:
- 3 persons allowed in efficiency units (currently 2)
- 3 unrelated people + any of their children by blood, marriage, guardianship (including fosters and adoption)
That last one is to accommodate families "doubling up" to avoid homelessness. (They're technically still homeless, but at least sheltered.) It's incredibly common:…
Family relations are a common way for cities to limit occupancy, because it's illegal to discriminate against family. Boulder uses a broad definition of family, but critics still argue that it's wrong for gov't to decide who you live with.
Boulder is about average in terms of its current occupancy limits

Some cities/states have recently eliminated them: California, Oregon, Washington, Minneapolis, MN
Some have raised it to 5 persons: Denver, CO, Madison, WI
Some have lowered them: Austin, TX, College Station, TX
Karl Guiler, city planner: We've heard anecdotally that increased occupancy have reduced rent costs: Minneapolis and Redmond, Washington
Most cities/states, though, haven't really seen impacts / don't know what they are. Staff talked to Bellevue, Olympia, Redmond, Walla Walla and Seattle, in Washington and Bend, Corvallis, and Eugene in Oregon.
Per staff: “The communities have not reported any increase in impacts specifically related to occupancy, but also noted that the changes are still new and that it would likely take time for occupancies to change.”
That's the trouble with a lot of occupancy stuff, particularly as it relates to affordability. There's not been a lot of study.

One from Denver found higher occupancy = lower rents
Austin's study found no increase in housing costs with higher occupancy, but that report wasn't actually finished.
That matters because it's another talking point from opponents of increasing it: They only want to increase it IF it's tied to affordability.
Let's talk impacts: This is perhaps the most valid (in my highly educated opinion) argument.

Because when folks talk about renters, they often mean students. And when they talk about students, they often mean noise, parties and trash.
Per staff: "It is not uncommon for neighborhoods adjacent to colleges or universities in many cities around the country to report a higher incidence of nuisance issues.”
Occupancy limits are one way to attempt to deal with that. However, also per staff: "Many cities that have increased their unrelated occupancy limits have taken a different approach to these impacts, focusing more on the impacts themselves through targeted enforcement."
As we've heard previously, though, Boulder will not be able to increase enforcement in tandem with increasing occupancy. It will likely take longer to get more $$ and staff up. The city only has, like 1-2 code enforcement officers.
Digging further into impact, though, a Denver study found that ACTUAL occupancy (how many ppl live in a household) doesn't actually correlate with how many people CAN legally live together: it tends to be between 2-3 people per house, regardless of the limits.
And we've also heard from folks — on both sides — that many people already live over-occupied. So that cuts both ways: Will it get much worse? And will it open up that many more housing units? Meh, probably not, to both.
It *would* legalize existing living situations, and we have heard from folks who have live over-occupied and enforced against.

Boulder's not enforcing occupancy right now (except for health and safety) but it has in the past, and it could again.
Planning Board hearing July 25: 4-3 vote to support increase, with more resources for enforcement

Housing Advisory Board public hearing July 26: Unanimously approved adoption
That was a lot. Let's take a breath, shall we?
A couple notes on earlier points: Forgot to mention parking, which is a big concern for a lot of folks.

Also, these discussions almost exclusively focus on students, but there are lots of non-student renters in this town. It's 50% renters! They're not all students!
And a little more clarification to impacts: We really don't know how many more housing units will open up, or how many more renters will be added to highly occupied areas.

One change in this ordinance: Non-conforming units will be locked in at current occupancy.
And many of those are on the Hill. So occupancy won't be changing at those properties.
What are non-conforming properties? Ones where current zoning would not allow them to be built. Like, a triplex is there, but today you could only build a single-family house.
The Hill (and other areas of Boulder) were down-zoned (to allow less housing) at least once, but existing properties were grandfathered in.

I have notes *somewhere* about how many of these properties there are, and where.... struggling to find it.
"This would be a measure to protect areas like the Hill where there are a concentration of nonconforming" properties, Guiler says. "You can't ask for more occupancy; that is just capped."
That's staff's recommendation: to lock in the current limits for those properties. Two options for council: either citywide, or just in areas around the university.
Sorry, it's kinda wonky, but it matters.
Speer: How many units are we talking about when we look at nonconforming units?
Guiler: It's over 5,000 units, possibly 6,000 units. So we're talking about 13% of the city.
Speer: Do we know what landlords of those properties would want to do with a higher limit?

Guiler: BARHA is not in full support of the ordinance. It seems solely based on the complexity of not applying it uniformly, bc it can cause confusion with the non-conforming properties.
BARHA = Boulder Area Rental Housing Association, or the landlord lobby
"It's not too unlike what we have today," with the geographically based occupancy limits, Guiler says.
Speer: Do we have a plan for helping ppl understand if their occupancy is changing or not?
Guiler: I've been meeting with people. We'll continue to do that. When they come in for a rental license, we always have to do some research, bc the occupancy gets printed on the license.
That will continue, Guiler says. As will life-safety, building code occupancy. That doesn't change regardless of what additional limits the city places on occupancy.
Joseph asking the affordability question.
Guiler: "This ordinance does not have a provision for guaranteed affordability. It's something we're looking at."
Guiler: In talking to BARHA, what we heard was some landlords will elect to break down the fees. Others will not do that; they'll just charge the same and make more $$.
Friend with a reminder that, although the Bedrooms ballot initiative failed, 6 of the current council member supported increasing occupancy, and they made it one of their top workplan items.
It's kinda a tricky position: People voted down that occupancy measure (which was different from this one) but voted IN folks who wanted to increase occupancy.
Which is how we got here.
Wallach: What % of non-conforming properties are located in university-adjacent communities?
Guiler: Idk that we have a specific %, but it's a pretty high % bc there were a number of re-zonings that happened in the 1970s on the Hill and downtown that didn't happen elsewhere.
Winer: Why didn't we do an affordability requirement like with ADUs?

Guiler: We didn't see any other communities with that type of process. Also, it's complicated to administer and would require some legal research. (and it's not what council indicated in its work plan)
Winer, with a rhetorical question: Isn't it always complicated to do affordability?
Winer asking about code enforcement:

Brad Mueller, planning director:
6 employees budgeted right now in code enforcement (but only 3 are staffed up)
6 in planning + development
Parking enforcement has staffing, too, but Mueller doesn't know how much
Speer: Do we have data that nuisance violations (trash, weed, noise, etc) increase with occupancy? (Versus, like, the age of the tenants)
Guiler: Idk that we do
Mueller: It's more based nationally. "We didn't find anything conclusive about the relationship between the two."
Guiler: It's more based on looking at universities, where the issues tend to be, that are similar to what we see in Boulder.
Benjamin: We've recently passed a number of ordinances related to noise and trash, and we're in the process of working through those. Are we actively working on parking impacts?
Mueller: There are number of things we've done to address what could be called quality of life
- Update to noise ordinance
- Update to weed/trash ordinance
- Efforts underway to provide for landlord education
- Tool to notify landlords of violations at their properties
RE: Parking, Mueller says: "We've realized for a couple years now" that Boulder's parking regs might be ready for a refresh. There are plans to work on that — proactive management, how much parking is required, plus nuisance parking.
"There's a lot in the works," Mueller concludes.
Benjamin asks about another effort: A chronic nuisance ordinance, coming in the fall, which will change how Boulder handles properties with, well, chronic violations. We could see rental licenses get pulled.
NRV: It's providing education to renters and landlords, and frankly, "in my experience" (she did this work previously in other cities) "when there are tools for accountability, you start to see a change in behavior."
Some cities do fines, some revoke rental licenses, NRV says. "Our intent is not to be draconian, but it is important to have a gamut or a range of tools."

Most landlords doing great; it's a few properties causing problems. I have some great data on that somewhere....
We're starting the public hearing. 84 speakers. I'm gonna finish this from home, bc honestly I've heard this all before and I really can't stand the vibe in this room tonight.

I'll be back to let you know how the vote goes. Again, they had 6 votes on first reading.
OK, just this one, because I know and love her:

Cedar Barstow: I've been renting my 5BR home for 27 years, affordably, now to 82 total people. If you'd passed this before, it could have been more. We abided by the limits.

Hi, Cedar!
OK, I'm comfortable at home and listening in for the vote, tho we're at least a couple hours away from that.

Forgive me: I've just sat through so many of these hearings on occupancy limits over the years, and I'm still in pain from a medical procedure this week.
Meeting extended. We've got a few speakers left, then discussion and vote.
And we're done with the public hearing!
Benjamin: Thanks to all the first-time speakers. Hopefully you'll feel rewarded by the engagement and come back.

Brockett, to laughs: They're not all this long.
Friend is making a motion already, to increase the occupancy limits as previously discussed. Folkerts seconds.
Friend: "The Boulder rental market sucks. This does not fix that. We still have a lot of work to do." But it will provide legal stability, be "inclusive for chosen families," and provide economic security for renters.
This is not the same thing that was rejected by voters, Friend says. This was a 9-0 vote to put it on our work plan. "This is a yearslong, well-studied issue. This is a compromise — there are people who don't want any occupancy limits. There are people who don't want any change."
Friend: To neighbors on the Hill, I hope there will be extra grace for the ppl who are renting for the first time this year, because they lived through the worst of COVID as youth. They have high rates of suicide, and isolation. "Direct your anger at me, not them."
Folkerts proposing an amendment, to NOT lock in occupancy in non-conforming properties. These should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, so we can decide where it makes sense and where it doesn't. This is a transit-rich environment.
To be clear, this will not automatically increase occupancy at those ~6,000 units. They would have to apply and go through a process known as use review (which has its own Planning Board hearing + vote and city council call-up).
Friend: My understanding is this would eat up a lot of staff time, so I'd much rather have them use their time to address the underlying issues instead of looking at a bunch of requests.
Wallach: Representatives of communities most impacted by this have been begging us for some relief. The only thing we've given them is the non-conforming exception.
(I think people living over-occupied, or who would like to be, are probably the most affected by rules on who can live together, but point taken.)
Yates and Winer also against this amendment.

Speer: I haven't seen any kind of evidence in anything staff has presented that it's occupancy driving nuisance. We are using a sledgehammer on a problem that requires a scalpel.
Friend: This is not a nuisance issue to me. This is about issues related to parking. Staff won't be able to grant exceptions bc these properties don't meet parking minimums anyway, so it doesn't make sense to waste their time on that.
Folkerts amendment fails 3-6, so we're back to the original motion: Increased occupancy for all but non-conforming properties, which we heard earlier was about 13% of rental units in the city.
Benjamin: "We need to welcome and work with students rather than marginalize them. I felt that marginalization 23 years ago when I lived on the Hill; I felt that."
Speer: "Shared housing helped people find partners, grow families, earn degrees ... and find connection at all ages. ... This is a small step for housing, personal freedom and affordability."
"Noise, trash, cars... all those things that make life harder." Everyone feels that, not just homeowners. "Our sledgehammer approach is not even hitting the right target, when we've heard those things are getting worse and occupancy hasn't changed," Speer says.
Asks that we can track nuisance violations and revisit to see what else can be done around those, and to check in with BARHA to see how property owners are understanding (or not) the new rules.
Wallach: This will be disastrous for families trying to rent, and make Boulder even more unaffordable.
Winer: Going from 3 to 5 is not a compromise. (She wanted to go to 4 citywide.) We're not carving out student housing; we're not carving out Uni Hill. "I don't feel this was a compromise in any way."
Winer: "We all know we have a housing crisis. This vote has nothing to do with that." It's about a middle ground, "which we have not done."
Hey, she's talking about my neighborhood, Martin Acres. (where I live in a 5-bedroom house with 4 roommates, and admittedly a very shabby yard at the moment).

"These houses are not built" for 5 renters, she says.
Yates: I don't think this will open up many housing units; people are already living over-occupied.

Says we should have tied this to affordability, a la ADUs.
This is the first house I've lived in where we're all on separate leases, which means it's also the most expensive, at a whopping $775/month (+ utilities) — about half the market rate.
It's silly to pretend there aren't landlords charging by the bedroom — particularly on the Hill, which has the highest rents in the city, and property mgt companies dominate (and exploit).
It's also silly to pretend that every landlord is charging the max they can per bedroom, everywhere in the city.
Joseph: I ran on this, and I was supported by the community. This issue had unanimous support from the council (to add to the workplan) even though we're hearing something different tonight.
There's no way folks Yates and Winer could have supported this and expected their base to vote for them this fall; it's too much of a divisive issue. They were never going to vote for this.
Brockett: "We need to focus on the problems, not the people. I'm supporting this because we're failing our young people right now. They do not have access to housing that they can afford and stay in their communities."
References this article:…
This provides housing in the most sustainable way, Brockett says, without tearing anything down, without building anything, without putting a shovel in the ground. It allows people to make full use of existing infrastructure.
Vote as suspected, following the first reading: passes 6-3, with Winer, Yates and Wallach voting no.
Long night, long road.
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More from @shayshinecastle

Aug 17
Howdy, Boulder, I'm at city council watching two things:
- Final ballot language for the sales tax extension / arts funding
- Vote on raising occupancy limits to 5

The outcomes on both are almost assured based on previous votes, but I'm here nonetheless.
Will almost certainly tweet something, if not the entire thing. Honestly do not have the stomach to sit through yet another public hearing on occupancy, when we already know what everyone will say.
We heard some heartbreaking testimony from labor unions, workers and others about the need to raise the minimum wage ASAP.

Also from human services agencies about their concern over dedicating general fund revenue to the arts (aforementioned ballot measure)
Read 25 tweets
Jun 23
I'm gonna listen to the muni court update (coming up in a few minutes) but prob not gonna tweet.

Here's the presentation if you're interested:…
I will turn my notes into a thread or article if there is interesting stuff... which I imagine there will be. For instance: I just want you to note how many steps there to get housed (Slide 17+18). And that's just if everything goes perfectly. It doesn't, often!
OK, this is too interesting not to tweet.
Read 26 tweets
Jun 23
Yates: I'm going to be voting against the moratorium for the Police Oversight Panel. POP has not asked for this; when city attorneys advised that a council moratorium would be legally safer, several members said they wanted to send a message, comparing it to a strike.
They're gonna keep working on previously accepted cases, Yates says, keeping them busy through September. And ordinance changes will be read in early October.
Yates: "I have to ask, what happens if the POP ordinance changes recommended by the independent consultant are not acceptable to some or all of the members. We already know some requested changes are unlikely to be accepted by council."
Read 36 tweets
Jun 23
Back again tonight, sans margarita, to tweet just a lil bit of the city council meeting, including a vote to pass a formal moratorium on review of new complaints by the Police Oversight Panel.

And, depending on the content, maybe the muni court update.
Looks like muni court is about navigators for the unhoused population, so I'll give that a listen and let you know what's interesting.
Judge Linda Cooke's last meeting is tonight, after 20+ years in that role. They're doing a declaration for her tonight.
Read 4 tweets
Jun 22
Hey, all. I'm gonna attempt to live-tweet the Raucous Caucus tonight, though if I remember correctly, it's pretty fast-paced.

I'm following the Daily Camera's old rule of 1 drink per shift with a delicious margarita. That should help.
That rule was probably implemented in the spirit of a speed limit... probably because people needed a limit. It's a maximum allowable, not a suggested serving
We just got the 5 min warning, so we'll be starting soon. Sorry to give you false hope there.

Although most ppl who would normally follow this are probably already here.
Read 114 tweets
Jun 16
That wasn't a very long break. Now on to the occupancy and affordable housing zoning discussion.

NRV: "Occupancy is an issue of great importance, an issue where there have been many opinions."

This council pledged to increase occupancy limits, which are currently 3 or 4 unrelated persons, to 4 or 5 persons.
Let's start with some numbers, because they're fun:
There are 47,037 housing units in Boulder
- Single-Family Detached: 18,736 (37.8%)
- Single-Family Attached (Duplex, Triplex, Townhome): 4,254 (9%)
- Multi-Family Attached (Condo, Apartment): 22,951 (48.8%)
Read 106 tweets

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