With Vermont Town Meeting Day in the rearview mirror, the Burlington City Council met this week with a light agenda including an initial review of a rental housing standard and a report on property reassessments.
Burlington leaders are considering a change to the city’s housing ordinance to mandate minimum energy efficiency standards in rental housing. East District Progressive Jack Hanson said mandatory weatherization of rental units is long overdue.
“Weatherization is one of the most important examples of energy efficiency that we have and for owner-occupied housing there’s a pretty straightforward economic incentive for weatherization which is the savings annually on heating bills are greater than what you would spend on the improvements especially when the financing is favorable and you can spread it out over time," Hanson said. " But for rental units it’s a lot less straightforward because the property owner is the one paying for those improvements but it’s the tenant usually who’s paying the utility bills and it would be the tenant receiving those savings.”
Hanson noted that incentives alone haven’t been successful nor did a Time of Sale ordinance passed to compel upgrades. He pointed to a 2019 report that showed because there is such low turnover of ownership and a lack of strong enforcement few rental units had been weatherized.
“This would require almost all rental units that are not already efficient or that have not recently had weatherization work done to do so in the coming years," Hanson said. "This is also really important because it will help prepare us for the transition away from fossil fuel heating sources because having a tight building envelope makes a lot of the newer technologies like cold climate heat pumps function a lot better and make them more feasible.”
There was concern about a cost cap and a time of sale clause in the revision to the ordinance. Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat, clarified.
“I think it’s important to point out that the cost cap only applies to the first time in which the property falls under this regulation," the mayor said. "Secondly the removal of the Point of Sale regulation this just says every property every rental property is now captured by this.”
The ordinance is set for a second reading and possible adoption at the council’s March 22nd meeting.
Councilors also heard a presentation and discussed the Citywide Reappraisal Project. City Assessor John Vickerey said the values of all the properties in the city will soon be published.
“We’re about to put values out as of April 1st," Vickerey said. "The market has been increasing with single family homes, duplexes and condos and so the new values will reflect that. We also wanted to make a statement about the tax rate that it will lower when values are increased as a result of his reappraisal.”
Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine noted he has served on the council during past reappraisals and expects strong reactions from constituents.
“Values are going up rapidly," Pine said. "The prices I’m noticing are just mind boggling in neighborhoods that you would not expect to see these types of prices. Even though the tax rate gets adjusted and so people shouldn’t see a huge hit, values in some neighborhoods have gone up dramatically over where they are. There’s going to be some sticker shock. I just want us to be ready for that, prepare people for that. It’s going to be challenging.”
Councilors voted to accept the assessor’s report and place it on file.