This afternoon, Barre City Mayor Thom Lauzon told Seven Days that on Tuesday night he intends to present the Barre City Council with new occupancy standards for all rental units in the city, and credits Seven Days for bringing the matter to his attention.
Lauzon said he first became aware of Barre City's lack of a maximum-occupancy limit for rental properties after reading a February 2 article in Seven Days about four Peruvian workers forced to live in an overcrowded house in Barre for the last three months.
The four Peruvians, all university students from Lima on summer break, expressed bitterness, disappointment and anger at the way they’ve been treated in Vermont. Each said she paid more than $3000 for the opportunity to visit the United States under the federal J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, which allows foreign students to work here for as long as four months.
The women, who range in age from 18 to 23, were among 11 foreign workers hired by Fuad Ndibalema, owner of Somosaman Café in Montpelier, and housed in a five-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Barre City. Though men and women shared the house, there were no doors on the bedrooms, and the bathroom didn’t have a lock.
Several of the Peruvians claimed they had to share mattresses on the floor with strangers. One woman claimed that three women were assigned to share one mattress. All four Peruvians have since left the state.
Lauzon said he decided to propose the ordinance, which he modeled after the city of Burlington's, after reading in Seven Days that a Barre fire inspector had visited the house in December in response to a resident's a complaint about overcrowding, but couldn't issue a citation because Barre City has no maximum-occupancy standards for homes like this one.
Barre City has been looking to update its housing ordinances for some time, Lauzon added, but he saw this as an easily correctible situation that could prevent future such abuses.
"It's certainly not our intent to discourage big families from living in Barre City," Lauzon said. "But I have an 18-year-old daughter, and I wouldn't want her living in those conditions... We can do better, and we should."