Denver is considering a zoning change that would affect how many unrelated people can live together in a single residential unit.
An updated proposal released on July 17 addressed some early complaints about congestion and lack of clarity.
The original proposal would have moved the limit on the number of unrelated people who can live together in a single-unit household from 2 to 8. Due to some concerns that this could cause overcrowding, the number was reduced to 5 for homes with less than 1,800 square feet. For every additional 200 square feet an additional person may live in the home.
This means an 1,800 square foot home could house 6 unrelated people; a 2,000 square feet could house 7, and so on. There is currently no prohibition on related people, meaning a house with less than 1,800 square feet can have 6 siblings, parents, and children under current rules, but not 6 friends. The proposed rules do not place a limit on the number of related people who can live together.
These changes come as anxiety surrounding evictions and housing during the COVID-19 pandemic is on the rise. With this measure, which has been two-years in the making, the Group Living Advisory Committee is hoping to alleviate some of the tension caused by rising housing costs.
The draft put forward by the Group Living Advisory Committee says that the old definition for a household causes a lack of affordability.
Young people today are increasingly living with roommates in order to cut costs, and this change allows people to pursue those living arrangements. According to a Zillow analysis of a U.S. Census Bureau survey, the percentage of working age Denverites (aged 23 to 65) living in what they call “doubled-up” households has risen from 18.6% in 2005, to 27.2% in 2015. “Doubled-up” households, according to Zillow, are households where residents “cut costs by adding a roommate.”
However, community feedback at open houses and in emails has been largely negative. 88% of emails and written comments received by the Group Living Project Team have expressed opposition to the changes. About 70% of comments at open houses also expressed opposition.
Many people in opposition are worried about parking issues, a rise in crime rates, a loss in home values, and the commercialization of single-unit neighborhoods.
Jason Hornyak, President of the Chaffee Park registered neighborhood organization, believes that the lack of support comes, in part, from millennials being overshadowed by older residents. “The millennials I talked to have other things to worry about. They’re not thinking about zoning issues, they’re not thinking about city code, they’re just trying to get on with their lives,” Hornyak said.
Residents who are currently living with more than two unrelated individuals find some of the complaints to be unfounded. One Baker resident, who preferred not to be named given the current law, said, “There is a house across from us that is at least four unrelated people. I live with three other people, unrelated. We are not delinquents. It is so ridiculous that they think that this brings crime.”
The Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC), a group of neighborhood leaders from Denver’s registered neighborhood organizations, held its annual meeting on July 17 where they discussed the proposed changes.
“These communities will hurt very badly if something like this passes,” said Pamela Jiner of Montbello 20/20 at the INC meeting.
The INC meeting voted on a resolution to make the proposed changes more palatable. The resolution, which received a 70% vote in favor, asks that the household portion of the proposal not move forward with a rental registry, and that there be larger outreach to minority communities.
However, the meeting was not without disagreement.
Luchia Brown, President of the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association, said the INC was “allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” adding that “There are a lot of houses that already exist with lots of unrelated renters in it, but nobody knows, nobody turns them in, they’re not causing a problem.”The proposal is now in a legislative review phase and the next public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, August 19. Comments can be sent to project manager Andrew Webb, at firstname.lastname@example.org and more information is available on the city’s community planning and development webpage.