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Housing Summit Seeks Affordability Solutions But Draws Critics

A housing summitwas held in Burlington Wednesday evening.  It was a follow-up to a June summit that identified five action areas for the city to create and implement affordable housing policies.
The summit brought together city departments with housing advocates and residents to review and discuss progress on affordable housing priorities. During his introduction, Mayor Miro Weinberger said there are a number of reasons to address the city’s housing issues.  “From my perspective getting our housing policies right affects every Burlingtonian in one way or another. It impacts most of our major community goals. Getting our housing polices right will ensure that our young, our old and working people can continue to call Burlington home. Getting our housing polices right will give a huge boost to our efforts to become a more inclusive and diverse community. Getting our housing policies right will strengthen our businesses, create jobs and create new public revenues for the many social programs we’re committed to.”  

Weinberger, a Democrat, noted that affordability has been an issue since the 1980’s when the first mayor’s task force on housing was created.  He said a study early in his administration reviewed trends and it led to the city’s 2015 Housing Action Plan.  A summit in June then outlined five proposals to further address affordability, availability and diversity.  “Three of which are focused on housing supply issues, two of which are focused head on on affordability issues. So the three areas focused on supply are about eliminating parking minimums in the downtown and on transportation corridors. We want to make it easier for people to build Accessory Dwelling Units. We are concerned about the erosion of the existing long-term rental supply that the new world of AirBNB and VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners) and short-term rentals presents.”

But not everyone in the crowd was in lockstep with the mayor.
Weinberger:  “I think we’re starting to see that in the data…”
Man in back of room:  “We’re tired of…”
Weinberger:  “The ah…”
Woman in back of auditorium: “We don’t get heard and you’re going to hear us.”
Weinberger: “That’s great that’s what tonight is about okay?”
Woman:  “I can’t afford to live here without Section Eight. This is the only way we get heard.”
Weinberger:  “Well it’s…” (scattered applause) “You know it pains me to hear that you feel that’s the only way you get heard.”

A group of residents wore placards across their chests that said “renter.”  Charles Winkleman says the mayor and others aren’t listening to low-income residents.  “At the last meeting you know we made it clear to the Mayor that he was not hearing the needs of low income and displaced residents and what we heard tonight was him saying ‘I have not heard that and I’m not going to hear it.’ And that’s why some of us were a bit loud tonight because we’re felling pretty frustrated because our government doesn’t work for the 60-percent of Burlington resident who are renters. It works for the landlords. It works for the developers. It works for the homeowners.  But the mayor continuously ignores the needs of low income renters.”

Each of the five action items were featured at posters scattered across Contois Auditorium and groups rotated between them.  Burlington Community and Economic Development Office Assistant Director of Sustainability, Housing and Economic Development Gillian Nanton says trying to solve the housing crisis involves a complex web.  “We talk about affordable. There’s a whole missing middle there who can’t access the market, that don’t qualify for subsidies. We call those folks the missing middle. We also have to keep our eyes on workforce housing. So there is that dimension to affordable and low-income and increasingly the supply of housing generally is going to be very important. And it’s a human right, you know, access to safe and affordable housing.”

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