Denver Development

Denver Reconsidering Magic Number of Adults in a Single Household

What's the magic number of unrelated adults who should be able to live together?
What's the magic number of unrelated adults who should be able to live together? Pexels
With a vote fast approaching in a Denver City Council committee, city planners are trying to conjure up a magic number: just how many unrelated adults can live together in the same home.

"We’ve heard quite a few concerns from you over the course of these last few meetings about those current proposals — chiefly, the number of people allowed to live in a dwelling unit, and concerns of very large households of unrelated adults," Andrew Webb, the senior city planner spearheading an overhaul of the group-living aspects of Denver's zoning code, said at an October 6 Denver City Council Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting.

The current version of the proposal, which has been in the works since March 2018, suggests increasing the number of unrelated adults who can live together in the same household from two to a base of five, with the chance to increase this number to ten, depending on the square footage of a home. (An unlimited number of relatives would be allowed to live in these households, too, as is currently the case in Denver.)

The group-living proposal is a way to bring obsolete aspects of the zoning code up to date and also better conform to how members of households organize themselves based on lifestyles and financial means, according to proponents.

In recent weeks, however, six members of Denver City Council have pushed back against the proposal, either hinting or stating outright that they wouldn't vote for it in its current form. One of the primary reasons for that? Pushback against household size.

"If we increased it to four or five unrelated adults, that’s already a 100 percent increase. And I think that’s a pretty good start," Councilwoman Kendra Black said at the October 6 meeting. "Maybe down the road someday in the next few years, we could re-evaluate it and see how it goes. But you know, increasing more than 100 percent is a big increase."

On the other hand, at least six councilmembers appear to support significantly increasing the number of unrelated adults who can live together in the same household to a level more in line with what Webb and the Department of Community Planning and Development are now proposing.

The suggested base number of five is lower than the eight initially proposed by Community Planning and Development earlier this year. CPD decreased the number after receiving pushback from Denver residents and some members of council.

At the October 6 committee meeting, as Webb discussed household-size regulations, he suggested eight alternatives.

One would allow a minimum of five unrelated adults in the same household, and then create a permitting system for increases beyond that number up to ten. Or the city could do the same for a maximum of eight. In both cases, households could still have unlimited related adults.

A third suggestion would allow for five adults with a permitting system for up to eight, but would cap the number of adults who can live together in a household at ten, regardless of relation. Existing large multi-generational households would be grandfathered in; new households over this ten-adult cap would be banned going forward.

Other suggestions varied in the size of the cap, the way that related and unrelated adults are broken down, and the metric that should be used to determine household size.

And this discussion focused on just one of the issues councilmembers will tackle going forward; at a meeting last month, they decided to break the proposed zoning changes into a series of specific discussions.

On November 3, Webb will make a presentation to the Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on how the group-living amendments would affect where residential-care facilities, such as homeless shelters, can pop up throughout Denver. A week later, the committee will hear a presentation specifically regarding halfway houses. And then on November 17, Webb will discuss how the proposal will affect areas of the city zoned under the old zoning code, as well as enforcement and post-adoption monitoring. Finally, on December 1, the committee will vote on the proposal.

Councilman Chris Herndon, chair of the Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has not revealed his position; the proposal needs seven votes for approval. If the proposal makes it out of committee on December 1, the full Denver City Council would vote on the measure in January.

After almost three years of planning.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.