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Burlington city councilors quiz University of Vermont official on housing agreement

Ira Allen Chapel and clock tower at the University of Vermont (file)
Pat Bradley
Ira Allen Chapel and clock tower at the University of Vermont (file)

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has announced an agreement with the University of Vermont intended to ease some of the pressure on the local housing market. During their latest meeting, city councilors questioned the details of the college’s commitments and obligations.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding the college will provide at least 1.5 beds for every undergraduate admitted after the fall of 2023. In return the city will advance zoning amendments to allow the college to construct facilities with up to 1,500 new student beds.

The agreement, put forward by Mayor Miro Weinberger, must be approved by the city council.

During the presentation on the agreement UVM Vice President of Finance and Administration Richard Cate said the university is targeting an enrollment of about 3,000 new first-year students. They plan to increase bed capacity one-and-a-half times any growth in new enrollment and the college is working on two housing projects in South Burlington toward that goal.

“We believe that the university is making its best effort here in trying to give the assurance that people have been concerned about in terms of enrollment as its tied to housing and we’re hopeful that the city can see its way through to provide the zoning as needed.”

Burlington Planning Director Meagan Tuttle noted that until 2021 the university was exceeding undergraduate enrollment bed capacity, offsetting some of the city’s housing demand, but enrollments began to grow in 2022.

“The commitments in the MOU and the capacity of housing on campus that could be enabled by these zoning changes will, as projects are able to come on line on the campus, start to really move that on campus housing capacity and therefore really decrease the off campus housing demand.”

East District Democrat Tim Doherty asked Cate about concerns that single family homes are being sold and refurbished to rent to students.

“This is predominately driven by upper class students, juniors and seniors, who leave on campus housing and go out into the neighborhoods and look for apartments,” noted Doherty. “And one of the things that I wanted in this MOU was an agreement or a commitment on behalf of the university to a certain number of units in these proposed new projects that were devoted to upper class students. Why can’t we have an agreement to that effect or a commitment to that effect in the MOU?”

“Because the relationship with the students,” Cate replied, “and the degree to which they’re going to come is not something we can control absolutely.”

Ward 1 Progressive Zoraya Hightower said the college’s baseline is disingenuous given 2023’s high enrollment and questioned the college’s calculations for new beds.

“I don’t know if we should use new beds as a metric given how we’ve seen the use of forced triples,” Hightower said. “And unless I hear very differently from my constituents on this it just doesn’t feel like this is, first of all, the length of agreement that we want in terms of time. It doesn’t feel like we’re being as transparent as we could be. It doesn’t feel like the next step that we need to actually work together to solve a problem.”

This was an initial presentation on the agreement and no vote was taken.

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