A condo project under construction on St. Paul Street last year
Mayor Miro Weinberger presented the city council Monday with an 18-point plan for solving Burlington's affordable housing crisis.
The mayor has said that addressing this issue is a top priority during his second term. His administration has been working on the plan — with input from city councilors and members of the public — for roughly a year. Earlier drafts proved controversial, providing campaign fodder for his opponents.
The plan calls for building housing for another 1,500 college students on campuses and downtown; considering more housing in the South End; and overhauling the zoning ordinance by adopting form-based code. It calls for making it easier for developers to build downtown by reducing permit fees and no longer requiring them to include a minimum number of parking spaces for each project.
Among other recommendations:
Consider changes to the inclusionary zoning ordinance to reduce the costs of development. Created in 1990, the ordinance requires that at least 15 percent of new units in a project be reserved for lower-income households.
Double the funding for the Housing Trust Fund, which supports permanent affordable housing.
Encourage construction of small mother-in-law units as a housing option for elderly residents.
Support a permanent cold-weather shelter that doesn't turn away homeless people who've been drinking or using drugs.
The public's response on Monday was mixed. The plan didn't draw a huge crowd, but the residents who did show up were clearly invested — at least six of them took notes throughout the meeting. Some people asked the council to slow down; others urged the opposite.
One of the most common refrains: Do more to encourage the local colleges to house their students rather than create housing for them downtown.
The plan pledges to pursue strategies to avoid "over-gentrification." When Progressive Councilor Max Tracy asked the administration to get more specific, Weinberger offered the idea of building housing set aside for artists in the South End.
The term "affordable housing" was bandied about throughout the meeting, with little agreement about what income brackets it actually referred to. "I am for real affordable housing," said resident Andrew Simon. "I’m not convinced that the housing plan as proposed really achieves that."
Brian Pine, former housing director for the Community & Economic Development Office, said people shouldn't be paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. According to the plan, the majority of Burlington residents shell out 44 percent.
The council was originally expected to vote on the plan on April 27, though it may delay doing so in response to feedback from the public.