Officials Want to House Homeless in Old Burlington College Dorm | Off Message

Officials Want to House Homeless in Old Burlington College Dorm


The Stone House - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • The Stone House
City officials want to use a former Burlington College dorm as housing for the homeless.

The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity would operate the “sober house” facility for at least 13 people at the Stone House on North Avenue. The building has been empty since February 2016, when the city took ownership as Burlington College struggled to stay afloat.

The college shut down for good months later and “the building was abandoned and subject to vandalism, break-ins and trespassing during the early summer of 2016,” according to a memo on the proposal that’s been submitted to the Burlington Board of Finance and City Council.

The city would give CVOEO use of the space for free under a proposed two-year lease. The Board of Finance was scheduled to discuss the proposal Monday evening at a meeting that has since been canceled and rescheduled for February 27. The plan would also require approval from the city council and zoning permits from the Development Review Board.

“The proposal to use the Stone House to temporarily house those in need provides critical additional housing for those in need in our area,” the memo reads. “An additional benefit is that it provides a level of use and security for the building, thereby mitigating additional clean up and repair due to vandalism.”

The sober house could open as early as April, though Jan Demers, the executive director of CVOEO, called it a “pie-in-the-sky date.” In addition to the necessary permitting, CVOEO needs $200,000 to hire a resident manager for the facility. So far, the organization has raised about $30,000 with more on the way, she said.

“There are lots of hurdles,” Demers said. Still, she added, “the city is solidly behind it.”
Aerial photo of the Stone House property - COURTESY: CITY OF BURLINGTON
  • Courtesy: City of Burlington
  • Aerial photo of the Stone House property
Marcy Esbjerg, the city’s assistant director for community, housing and opportunity programs, pitched the idea of using the space for the homeless several months ago, Demers said. Esbjerg and Jesse Bridges, the director of Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, hashed out the proposal and submitted the memo on the project.

The property would house at least 13 individuals in single rooms and “assist the residents towards permanent housing,” according to the memo.

The city has a shortage of transitional housing for the homeless, Demers noted; the facility would help free up space in the city’s perpetually overcrowded warming shelter — at no cost to the tenants. “We don’t plan to be a landlord,” Demers said.

The building previously served as a private home and then as a group home for the Howard Center. The now-defunct Burlington College last used it as a student dorm.

The city currently uses space on the property for a community garden. Burlington stores maintenance equipment inside the building, which is also used for fire department and police training, according to the memo.

Aside from donating the building, the city would spend between $25,000 and $30,000 replacing windows damaged by vandals, said Bridges. The building does not require any major renovations to become habitable, he added.