Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has presented the City Council with a revised Housing Action Plan. The city’s leaders were originally slated to endorse the plan this month, but their vote has been delayed.
There are 18 initiatives in the Housing Action Plan that the City Council reviewed Monday evening. It includes reducing regulatory barriers, prioritizing affordable housing and developing strategies for off-campus student housing. Current City Council President Jane Knodell chaired the Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization Committee that worked on the Housing Plan. She says the plan is a joint effort between her committee and the mayor. “This plan takes on some of the major cost problems around affordable housing, specifically parking; our building codes add a lot of unnecessary expense. And to some extent our inclusionary zoning ordinance also adds some cost that makes it more difficult to build housing. If we can address all three of those so-called regulatory issues and at the same time capitalize on the fact that right now people want to live in cities, there’s a lot of developer interest in building in the city, I think that we could be on the cusp of building more units in the city of Burlington.”
HomeShare Vermont helps people share housing. Executive Director Kirby Dunn says the city has had a housing crisis for many years, exacerbated by its popularity. “The housing plan has a multi-faceted approach and it looks at creating and encouraging new housing development. The city has had very little new housing developed. Meanwhile the population has increased. It also looks at trying to encourage better planning and design. And it also talks about working with the university to try to get more students housed on campus and out of the neighborhoods, which puts a huge pressure on our housing stock.”
Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity Fair Housing Project Director Ted Wimpey wants to do a more in-depth study of the plan but feels it’s a good plan, in general. “I think there’s some room for tinkering with inclusionary zoning but I do not want to reduce the requirement for the number of inclusionary units required for new development. Inclusionary zoning is very important for fair housing from my perspective. Making sure that any housing development allows for increased opportunities for lower income people also increases opportunities for people in various protected classes.”
Burlington Business Association Executive Director Kelly Devine says housing affordability is crucial to the city’s economic vitality and there needs to be action. “It’s really critical to a local economy that you have a healthy housing market. Ours is out of balance. We only have a 1 percent vacancy on rental units and our cost of housing is a very high percentage of the average income. It’s up around 44 percent. We need to get started somewhere. Somebody at the meeting last night read a report from the early 90's talking about the same issues. There’s definitely been a lack of effective proactive action to make it so that the permitting process, the approval process, the zoning limitations make sense.”
The City Council was originally slated to hear public comments at Monday’s meeting and then endorse the plan on April 27th. But because Neighborhood Planning Assemblies have organized a housing summit for May 7th,the council decided to delay a vote on a resolution until later in May.