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Burlington City Councilors Discuss Just Cause Evictions And Divestment At Most Recent Meeting

Burlington street sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
A street sign in Burlington

Burlington City Councilors met this week and while their agenda was not long, the panel spent considerable time discussing a potential charter change to be put before voters.

Among the items on this week’s Burlington City Council agenda was a charter change proposal to implement “protections for residential tenants from eviction without just cause.” Sponsor Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine says he has been working sporadically on the idea since a 1988 Town Meeting Day advisory question was put before Burlington voters. He said at that time the majority of the community thought it was a good idea.  “The concept of housing security is a universal concept in most countries.  This is the policy, the law of the land, throughout Europe. North of us in Quebec this is a guaranteed right. This not a radical, radical concept. The notion that if you play by the rules, if you pay your rent, if you follow your lease, if you don’t disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of the property you deserve the right to not live in fear that you’re going to get an eviction notice.”

Several councilors had questions about the language in the proposal.  Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason, an attorney, outlined his legal concerns.  “From my reading you know this is too specific but also doesn’t address some of the issues that I have concerns about and also that I’ve heard from a number of constituents. I’ve actually been surprised that those who have reached out to me expressing reservations and concerns are not the big landlords. It’s rather you know it’s my neighbor up the street who still owns the duplex. And I’ve been surprised at the number  of people that I thought might have been supportive of this who when they’ve actually read this are very concerned in particular about the inability at the end of a term to dictate whether they want to continue in this relationship with their tenants or not.”

North District Democrat Franklin Paulino, who is also an attorney, added his legal concerns in the current iteration of the proposal. “The term just cause refers to a valid reason, justification, a reasonable reason, a good reason. And to me this goes far beyond that standard to say your good reason is not good enough, we’re going to make it more than just a good reason and we’re going to tell you which reasons are good and which reasons are bad. And I think I have a problem with that. I think this is taking the term just cause and making it much broader. And without clarity on that I don’t think I can support that.”

Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng asked the city attorney if the council was required to pass the resolution that evening.  The council was told that to meet Town Meeting Day timelines for public hearings and ballot printing all charter changes must be decided by their December 7th meeting.  “This is important. But the question is it ready for all of us to rally behind it and make sure that it passes when it goes to the voters? I think that’s my fear.”

Ward 4 Democrat Sarah Carpenter formally moved to postpone action until the December 7th meeting and the council unanimously agreed.

The city council also considered a resolution that the city divest from any fossil fuel investments. Sponsor Ward 8 Progressive Jane Stromberg said she began working on divestment issues when she attended the University of Vermont.  “Divestment from fossil fuels is not only one of the most impactful ways to combat the climate crisis but it also serves as a concrete example for other institutions, companies and municipalities to follow suit. And it gives us an opportunity to reinvest in our city such as local sustainable initiatives and marginalized communities, hence the Burlington Green New Deal Investment Fund clause that is in this resolution. It also financially is a good time in terms of our portfolio as a city to divest.”

Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul says the divestment resolution further commits the city to its climate goals.  “This resolution brings the council, the retirement board you know who’s really entrusted with our city’s pension assets, with our community, our valued employees, to really a critical juncture. And I think now we need now more than ever to take our commitment to environmental justice to our investment portfolio.”

The resolution passed unanimously.  Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat running for a fourth term, issued a statement supporting divestment.