Burlington City Council Passes Housing Action Plan

Oct 15, 2015

The Burlington City Council has unanimously approved a Housing Action Plan that includes 22 initiatives to create new housing and reduce costs in Vermont’s largest city.

The Housing Action plan adopted by the city council on Tuesday had been drafted over 16 months.  In 2014, a study commissioned by the city found that 58 percent of city residents rent and spend an average of 44 percent of their income on housing. It also found the city lagging in production of new housing particularly for low and moderate income sectors.  Following the release of the Downtown Housing Strategy Report city officials engaged the public and business sectors to create the Housing Action Plan.

City councilor Sharon Foley Bushor, a Ward 1 Independent, says the plan is a necessary step and a good start for the city.   “The plan brings to the forefront  housing as a priority for the community, which has been established for years and years, but it also identifies 22 specific points that need focus and attention in order to address the needs of everyone in the community.  So it not only targets and looks at low and moderate income people but it also looks at establishing a good mix of housing in our community so there’ll be some market rate housing.. It looks to establish really housing for a diverse community.  So it’s a go to plan.”

Central District Progressive Jane Knodell is president of the city council.  She says input from residents, developers and advocates was gathered to create a strong consensus document.   “I think it is absolutely crucial that we start to build housing in the city of Burlington. And this plan lays out some strategies that will hopefully help break through whatever it is that’s really blocking significant investment in housing in Burlington.”

The 22 proposals include prioritizing affordable housing,  expanding the Housing Trust Fund, reducing regulatory barriers, exploring transportation options and parking, building code reform, reviewing college housing,  and creating new approaches to homelessness.  It also establishes targets for different household types, addresses regulations, land use and quality of life issues.

Knodell adds the plan reinforces a number of challenges the city of about 42,000 residents faces.   “It either is or it is certainly perceived to be very difficult to get a permit to build in the city of Burlington. That really inhibits investment because the developers are thinking  I can’t invest all this money and end up maybe not even getting a permit. Because they have to hire architects and lawyers and there’s a lot of work that goes into a project before you even start to dig into the ground. And in Burlington the perception is that it’s just too risky to put all this money in and then maybe not get the permit.  And so form based code, which is a new way of zoning the downtown, is being advanced as a possible solution to that problem.”