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Boulder will not suspend occupancy limits during the coronavirus pandemic, with a split 4-4 City Council vote on Tuesday, causing the proposed measure to fail.

City Council members Rachel Friend, Adam Swetlik, Aaron Brockett and Junie Joseph voted in favor of the measure while Bob Yates, Mary Young, Sam Weaver and Mark Wallach voted against it.

Council member Mirabai Nagle was absent from the meeting, but previously told council she did not support the measure.

The motion requested the city manager allow households to exceed the city’s occupancy limits until May 31, 2021, “to allow dwelling units to safely house people during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Most of Boulder only allows up to three unrelated people to live together.

Gov. Jared Polis has encouraged municipalities to suspend or eliminate occupancy limits during the pandemic, but that was not enough to convince four of the City Council members.

“The Polis administration has been focused on housing stability and continues to encourage cities to temporarily waive their unrelated occupancy limits, but Colorado is a local control state and while the governor believes that cities that have temporarily waived their limit are an important part of the emergency housing solution for the state, the Governor respects the Boulder Council’s decision,” spokesperson Shelby Wieman said in an email.

The Bedrooms Are For People campaign, which seeks to change Boulder’s occupancy limits to allow more unrelated people to live together, decried the council’s decision.

“They don’t care about the people who are not wealthy and who are living in fear because they’re living four people in a four bedroom house,” said campaign co-chair Chelsea Castellano.

“The level of disregard for people who are struggling — it’s still shocking to me, somehow,” she said.

Friend said she was sad that some of her colleagues on council were not interested in even discussing the measure or finding a compromise.

“There are a lot of things we could have done that were not nothing; we could have protected families or enlarged occupancy limits,” Friend said. “I wish we could have dug into the outcomes people were afraid of and done something to protect our community.”

Yates said he voted against the measure because the council is taking up occupancy limits at a study session on Oct. 13 and because there was no evidence of a substantial increase in over-occupancy or enforcement.

“The fact that we may change it is not a good reason to suspend enforcement; in fact, it’s a bad reason. It would be like saying we’re thinking about changing our speed limit so let’s stop enforcing it until we do,” Yates said.

Yates said he’s open to the discussion about changing occupancy limits but that he is not convinced that a pandemic is a reason to stop enforcing the rules.

“I think we see people who don’t like a particular rule using COVID as a reason why we shouldn’t enforce that rule,” Yates said.

Rules like occupancy protect the health and safety of the community, Yates said, and there’s no evidence that enforcing occupancy has an adverse effect in the world of coronavirus.

Friend added that the goal of the proposed measure is to prevent eviction from occurring during the pandemic.

“I don’t think it’s good enough to wait until we see evidence of a problem,” she said. “That’s the whole reason state and federal lawmakers are doing what they’re doing, so people don’t have to lose their housing, lose their jobs and leave town.”

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