Home Construction Isn't Keeping Pace With Need, Officials Say | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Home Construction Isn't Keeping Pace With Need, Officials Say


Published October 28, 2022 at 9:30 a.m.

Cathedral Square's recently completed Juniper House, a mixed-income housing development for ages 55 and over at Cambrian Rise in Burlington - COURTESY CHAMPLAIN HOUSING TRUST
  • Courtesy Champlain Housing Trust
  • Cathedral Square's recently completed Juniper House, a mixed-income housing development for ages 55 and over at Cambrian Rise in Burlington
Despite a surge of homebuilding in Chittenden County, the area’s vacancy rate is still at historic lows, with a yearlong waiting list for the Champlain Housing Trust’s affordable apartments.

“We’ve built 4,000 homes in the last six years, and it’s not enough,” said Charlie Baker, the executive director of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.

Baker and Housing Trust CEO Michael Monte held an event in Burlington on Friday to draw attention to the situation.
When state lawmakers gather in January for the start of the legislative session, the advocates hope they'll change land-use regulations to make it easier to build homes. And as the stream of federal COVID-19 emergency funding slows to a trickle, Monte and Baker also want them to dig deep to support the construction of new affordable housing units.

A $37 million housing bond approved in 2017 helped create more than 850 homes and apartments around Vermont. Monte thinks it might be time for another bond or some other large infusion of cash, perhaps using some of the budget surplus generated by higher-than-anticipated tax receipts in recent years.

“It’s not about saying, ‘The COVID money is done; here’s $10 million to create housing throughout the state of Vermont,’” Monte said. “That’s not going to do it. We need more than that.”

Monte, Baker and the affordable housing developer Evernorth are part of Building Homes Together, a campaign that announced a goal last year of creating 5,000 new homes, with 1,250 permanently affordable, over  five years. In 2021, 909 homes were completed in Chittenden County, the group said. About 150 of them are permanently affordable.

While they’re making progress, the development isn’t happening fast enough to keep up with the demand, the group said. In the past few years, Burlington has seen a surge of  growth. Competition for homes and apartments is keen, and prices have risen precipitously. The median home price in Burlington rose 19 percent year-over-year to $479,000 in September, according to realtor.com.
Champlain Housing Trust said the vacancy rate was just 0.4 percent in June; the Vermont Housing Finance Agency says a rate of 5 percent is considered healthy.

Monte and Baker want construction to increase regionally, not just in Chittenden County, and for more cities and towns to adopt inclusionary zoning policies, which require developers to include affordable units.

They'd also like cities and towns to ease restrictions on building heights, density and parking. Williston, which recently approved zoning changes to allow taller buildings, is on the right track, Baker said.

The permitting process gives too much weight to neighbors’ concerns, Baker added, leading to developments that come in under the size allowed by the host municipality’s own planning and zoning.

“They are trying to appease neighbors,” Baker said. “As a developer … if it allows 40 units, you come in [asking for] 35 and hope to end up with 25, so we just lost 15 housing units on that property.”

Housing has been a top priority for Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders for the past few years. Vermont has spent $456 million over the past six years on programs to help those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, according to a report that State Auditor Doug Hoffer issued this summer. Since the pandemic began, lawmakers have poured millions more into new home construction, rental assistance and other programs that help create units and make them accessible to more Vermonters.

“The governor and the legislature have been unusually generous over the last couple of years, not just with federal funds but with state funds, and we need to keep that up,” Monte said.

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