Oct. 19—Boulder's residents overwhelmingly agree on the importance of improving the environment and promoting diversity among long-term residents. Those of us living near campus know that Ballot Measure 300 ("Bedrooms") would backfire — harming the entire city. The University of Colorado Boulder would be the reason.
Unless you witness a normal single-family house being sold for a breathtaking $1.4 million, only to be converted to student housing, it may not be obvious that student housing is a major driver for escalating home prices in Boulder. Home conversions are happening with alarming frequency. The culprit is a tacit partnership between CU and real estate investors to satisfy CU's insatiable housing needs at the expense of Boulder's neighborhoods. An obvious climate benefit could be achieved through more CU students living in efficient campus housing, thus freeing up housing for Boulder's workforce. Communities would benefit from the reduced pressure driving long-term residents and families out of Boulder and decreasing diversity of owners and renters. Measure 300 is the opposite of the vision Boulder needs, the final straw for attainable family housing in Boulder, and bad environmental policy.
CU is consuming Boulder's neighborhood housing much faster than many realize. Since 2013 CU has added about 5,000 students and built rooms for only 700, consuming the equivalent of 1,000 neighborhood houses or more. CU continues to grow, and student housing availability is the control knob that allows CU to expand its business. Measure 300 would turn that knob "up to 11." High occupancy, "rent-by-room" houses are exactly the type of high-cost housing students currently consume, and exactly the type of housing long-term residents avoid. Voters should understand: when Measure 300's proponents talk about filling "empty" bedrooms, they're talking about conversions of owner-occupied houses to rentals. The "wasted bedrooms" proponents decry are rooms families currently use for home offices (a "green" telecommuting solution), playrooms, etc. "Filling empty rooms" means that investors buy houses and convert them to student-mode rentals, removing them from the family-buyer market. Measure 300's result would be a net increase of families moving out of Boulder and commuting back in for work. The sad reality is, the most economically-attainable housing for families is located near campus, and the lowest-cost housing is the lowest-hanging fruit for investors. It'll be the least-wealthy Boulderites who'll be pushed out first. Thus, people in disadvantaged groups will be hit hardest by Measure 300.
One example of exactly this problem is Boulder's Goss Grove neighborhood. Once the neighborhood for most of Boulder's early Black community and later for people of Hispanic and Italian origins (www.dailycamera.com/2012/02/13/history-the-little-rectangle-was-early-boulders-black-neighborhood/), Goss Grove is now largely student housing. Measure 300 proponents would have you believe that single-family homes forced out Boulder's ethnic minorities. But the real culprit was student rentals. Proponents have misappropriated social-justice language to push a false, emotionally-exploitative narrative. Boulder's first zoning was, in fact, intended to limit encroachment of business districts on neighborhoods. Occupancy limits were established in the 1970s to limit the encroachment of student housing on neighborhoods. Now, with Measure 300 looming, Boulder's most affordable neighborhoods, like Goss Grove, Martin Acres, and East Aurora are once again prime targets for investors. Diversity would suffer severely.
American university towns have recognized the challenge of retaining family housing and diversity. Philadelphia established a zone around Temple University that explicitly restricts student housing (https://housing.temple.edu/city-ordinance-regarding-tenant-restrictions-yorktown) and eventually expanded the zone from its initial boundaries. CU, already holding large amounts of undeveloped land on its East Campus and north of campus, has long-term plans to infill campus with student housing. CU's enrollment growth demonstrates that CU doesn't necessarily stick to its plans; it has almost reached its planned 2030 enrollment already — without the required housing. And now CU South proposes to house less than half the increased CU population it will draw. Boulder needs to adopt a stronger stance with regard to CU's exploitation of neighborhoods. Absolutely, the first step is rejecting Measure 300.
Ray Bambha is a Boulder resident, a researcher in climate science and sustainable energy, and has been a yoga instructor for 13 years.