Guest opinion: Ray Bambha: Are chambers for profit?
By Ray Bambha
Boulder has a serious housing affordability problem. We have formed People for Real Housing Affordability to address this issue. We urge you to vote NO on the ballot measure, “Rooms are for the people” (BAFP), as it totally lacks affordability requirements. It ignores the fundamental economics that exist in Boulder and will drive house prices even higher. BAFP will push real estate more into the hands of profit-driven investors. This is why many local policy experts have dubbed the BAFP “Chambers are for profit”.
Higher prices for rentals and ownership are the last things we want in Boulder. BAFP’s simplistic changes to occupation law won’t improve affordability, and they will create unintended consequences in Boulder for generations. Board member Bob Yates expressed concern https://bit.ly/3fA2umo that affordability is not required and rents will go up.
Every day, the well-being of the people of Boulder is supported by thousands of workers who either live on the edge of economic sustainability or who cannot live in Boulder due to high housing costs. The situation is both unfair and untenable. We need to apply thoughtful approaches that will result in affordable housing for low- and middle-income people. Approaches must take into account Boulder’s existing large, high-priced room rental market and its ever-increasing demand, accepted economic realities that BAFP simply ignores.
Boulder currently has occupancy limits of no more than three unrelated persons per dwelling in most neighborhoods. Almost all college towns have occupancy limits to control abusive rental practices. Boulder’s occupancy limit is in the middle of the range typical of our college towns. In contrast, the BAFP has no upper limit for unrelated occupants beyond a rule that single rooms must be 70 square feet and shared rooms must be 100 square feet. A 2,500-square-foot home could legally hold more than 25 people, according to the BAFP, if the landlord aggressively subdivides the bedrooms, and the rent can be whatever the landlord chooses.
Boulder’s occupancy limits incorporate a price limit; a three bedroom house can only be rented to three unrelated people in most areas. Boulder’s current monthly rent is approximately $ 1,000 per person. At $ 3,000 monthly rent, a young family can compete with three unrelated people.
If the BAFP passes, the same six-bedroom house could be rented to seven unrelated people and would likely be rented for $ 7,000. We see this pricing system currently in neighborhoods where non-compliant uses have been protected. Obviously, anyone requiring more than one bedroom will be charged off renting a house.
People for Real Housing Affordability seeks policies to create real accessibility. In fact, several of our solutions would facilitate increased occupancy but were rejected by the BAFP organizers. One idea was to allow BAFP’s high occupancy formula on the condition that landlords agree to charge 75% of typical rent: $ 750 instead of $ 1,000. Then seven unrelated people would pay $ 750 each. The landlord would still benefit greatly from $ 5,250 / month, and the tenants would benefit. But BAFP supporters rejected the affordability provisions.
We support the expansion of Boulder’s current inclusionary zoning law requiring 25% of new residential housing developments to be affordable. We support the increase in the percentage required to create more affordable housing, unlike the BAFP.
We need action based on the knowledge accumulated by other progressive communities. BAFP is a large-scale, limitless experiment that apparently ignores recent lessons learned. Austin has attempted to increase to six unrelated people per dwelling, with disastrous results, as shown in a published analysis documenting family displacement in downtown Austin https://bit.ly/3xqGikS. Austin later overturned the order in favor of four independent occupants, but only after suffering a substantial and permanent loss of family-friendly neighborhoods.
Thoughtful measures take into account the different demographic and economic factors in the different neighborhoods. BAFP is one size fits all. Boulder’s rental market varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Policies that would work well in one neighborhood could fail badly in another. Taking a single measure, when we know it will hurt some neighborhoods and not improve affordability, is not gradual; it is simply negligence. Boulder deserves better. Vote NO on “Rooms are for people”.
Ray Bambha is a climate and sustainability researcher and founder of People for Real Housing Affordability.