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New England News

Report Assesses Downtown Burlington Housing Market

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City of Burlington
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There is a lack of affordable housing in downtown Burlington, Vermont that officials have been struggling to deal with for years. A new report offers strategies to create a more affordable and liveable central city.

Burlington’s mayor has implemented planBTV, a comprehensive downtown and waterfront redevelopment plan. On Thursday, he issued the “City of Burlington, Vermont: Downtown Housing Strategy Report.” It reviews the causes of lack of housing stock along with affordability issues. It presents five strategies to spur development of center city housing stock.

Mayor Miro Weinberger says the report documents and quantifies for the first time that Burlington has missed opportunities that cities of similar size have taken advantage of.  “These other cities that are very vibrant, exciting places, they have seen housing housing production at rates of two to six times as great as Burlington’s during the last approximately dozen years. And there is urgency. We are in this time of historically low interest rates. I am concerned that unless we make some changes to the way we regulate housing production, unless we make some changes in terms of what our priorities are as a city in terms of focusing limited economic development resources we have to supporting to housing development we could continue to miss this rare and somewhat historic opportunity to really bring people back into the downtown.”

The report finds an affordability crisis in downtown housing, noting historically low vacancy rates. It found that only 18 rental and 222 household units were built between 2002 and 2013.

Due to the housing shortfall and the cost for what does exists, the city center is losing young professional residents, and that is impacting economic development opportunities.

The report’s recommendations include targeting areas for housing development, including strategic locations for student housing; providing incentives to increase production of multifamily rental housing, and linking the creation of housing to economic development goals. Again, Mayor Weinberger.  “People have not always thought about downtown investment as being about housing affordabiity, as being about walkability, as being about building a sustainable city that has a much lower environmental footprint and about walkabily. We think it’s important as we create a housing action plan,  as we talk about the implementation of other elements of planBTV, as we talk about a new planning effort to try to craft a different vision for the future of the South end, that we think about these issues.”

AARP-Vermont Spokesman David Reville says a crucial highlight is the necessity to have policies allowing the creation of more housing.  “We live in the second oldest state in the country and folks tell us that they want to age in place. Unfortunately here in Burlington, and this report focuses on downtown Burlington, the housing options are very limited. Particularly affordable housing. Limited availability are driving people out of town and away from services. The mayor has identified some of the regulatory issues around housing. He and his administration have some creative ideas and energy around trying to adjust the permitting process and alleviate some of the red tape.”

The Community and Economic Development Office and the mayor will sponsor a public hearing on the report June 12th at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s Contois Auditorium.