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Burlington City Council Considers Housing Reforms

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Burlington City Councilors voted on a resolution this week to address reforms intended to alleviate the city’s housing shortage.
Vermont’s largest city has a housing vacancy rate of 1.5 percent and that has led to an expensive and tight housing market.  In his State of the City Address in April, Mayor Miro Weinberger outlined a series of initiatives to address affordable housing. Since then, two housing summits – one in June and another in September – have been held. The resolution is a series of proposals that are a direct result of the summit.  Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason is the lead sponsor. “These four proposals can be summarized as follows: the first calls for an updating of our standards for energy efficiency in rental housing. The second proposal encourages the creation of Accessory Dwelling Units. The third proposal asks to consider implementation of a regulatory framework for short-term rentals. The fourth proposal seeks to revise the city’s approach to minimum parking requirements in order to reduce the cost to construct, maintain and lease housing units, allow more space for additional housing units and support a robust system of transportation alternatives. The final proposal asks to consider the restoration and increase in the city’s level of funding in order to support the Housing Trust Fund.”

Councilor Mason then began the discussion on the resolution.  “Well buckle up; this is going to be a controversial process.”

Mason based that thought on earlier public comment.  Burlington resident Cindy Cook felt that the short term rental proposal could be devastating for hosts over 60 who rely on such income.  “If changes are made so that my short-term income is reduced I’ll have to sell my house. And it’s a duplex. It’s very likely that some absentee landlord will buy it because it’s great income potential for that.”
City Council President Kurt Wright: “Ericka Reddick”   
Reddick:   “If you make it more expensive for me to own my property the more I will have to charge in rent. This will be the inevitable effect of most of the initiatives. I implore the council to vote no on every initiative other than ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units). My tenants already have more rights to my property than I do.”

Mayor Weinberger called the resolution a significant step toward completing the city’s Housing Action Plan. "They are in some sense some of the harder work to do to address our housing issues. On the other hand I think they are changes that could have an enormous impact if we can buckle down and get to consensus and can get this right. I think there’s the opportunity to create hundreds of new homes for Burlington residents in the years ahead, in the relatively few years ahead, if we are able to make some of these changes.”

But Ward 7 Democrat/Progressive Ali Dieng said a key element is missing.  “Where are the strategies focused on reducing chronic homelessness and resources for people experiencing homelessness?”

The resolution passed unanimously and its proposals now move to the Charter Change, Ordinance, Joint Planning and City Council Ordinance committees, which must report back to the council for further action.

Audio is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.

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