- Courtesy of Karen Pike
- Theresa Mazza with her dog, George, and Amy Ross at the home they share in Burlington
The Burlington City Council has approved spending $30,000 on incentives for people who rent out rooms in their homes. It’s the council’s latest attempt to chip away at the city’s acute housing crisis.
On Monday, the council passed a resolution that directs the city’s Housing Trust Fund to allocate $1,000 to 30 new hosts who connect with a tenant through HomeShare Vermont. The nonprofit helps seniors, adults with disabilities and others remain in their houses by matching them with people looking for a place to live.
Unlike a typical roommate arrangement, renters can opt to help with tasks around the house — such as preparing meals or providing transportation — in exchange for reduced rent. The average monthly rent through HomeShare in 2021 was $323, and the average match length was 23 months.
Under the city’s pilot program, hosts would get $500 after a renter lives there for 6 months, and another $500 after 12 months. To be eligible, hosts cannot charge more than $650 per month in rent.
In recent years, Burlington has invested in developing housing and changing land-use policies, but finding affordable rental housing in much of the city is still nearly impossible. Seven Days has examined the complexity of Vermont’s housing crisis in its year-long Locked Out series.
At the same time, Vermont is home to a rapidly aging population. With a median age of 43 years, Vermont is the third-oldest state in the nation. The result is smaller household sizes and changing housing needs. One-person households in Vermont have grown five times as fast as in the rest of the country over the past decade, according to the Vermont Tax Structure Commission.
HomeShare, meanwhile, is in demand. Over the last five years, there were between seven and 18 new host applications, compared to an average of at least three times as many guest applications. Much of the demand is in Burlington.
The council hopes the new program can address that mismatch.
"We’ve got a lot of empty bedrooms sitting around the city that could be used for housing, and if this is one way to open those bedrooms, we should give it a shot," Councilor Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4) said.
Toward the end of the meeting, Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1) addressed the resignation of former Ward 8 city councilor Ali House, saying she was sorry to lose House as a colleague. The recent University of Vermont graduate, a Progressive, resigned on October 5, saying "several serious situations" had made it difficult to serve.
On Monday, Hightower alluded to the fact that House had "no choice but to find alternative temporary housing" due to circumstances that forced her from her "legal home."
"I was very disappointed to see that some in our city chose to portray this as an attack rather than show the needed empathy for her situation," Hightower said.
She continued: "The fact that Ali is no longer sitting at this table with us is as much or more on every single member of this council, the mayor, and others in this city who have not been able to realize our desire to make safe housing an affordable reality for too many people in our city."
Carrera later touched up her rainforest after the "Everyone Loves a Parade!" mural came down in 2020. "It just seems unbelievable that such a kind and warm person could be taken from us way too soon," Paul said. "Gina devoted her professional life to art, but her first love, of course, was her two children, Nick and Bella, who miss her beyond terribly."