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Congregations Press City, UVM to Address Housing Crisis

Local Matters


Published December 27, 2006 at 4:39 p.m.

BURLINGTON - Finding affordable housing shouldn't be a matter of wishful thinking or blind faith, say members of Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA), a federation of nine religious congregations representing some 2000 families in the Burlington area.

As Seven Days reported in June ["Interfaith Coalition Presses City and UVM on Housing Crisis," June 28], Burlington's housing crisis doesn't just affect seniors but spans the entire demographic spectrum - from children and low-income families to people being released from prison, from moderate-income workers employed in the downtown retail district to veterans and the disabled.

A home is considered "affordable" if its residents spend no more than 30 percent of their household income on rent or mortgage. By that standard, about half of all Burlington residents live beyond their means - and the problem is getting worse. In 2005, Burlington's shelters served 30 percent more clients than in the previous year, reflecting an alarming upward trend in homelessness over the last five years.

At the community forum in June, VIA laid out an ambitious agenda for tackling the city's housing crunch. Since then, modest progress has been made on several fronts, according to VIA's Julia Curry.

For instance, the group had asked UVM to sponsor an updated study on students' impact on the rental market. Since then, VIA representatives have met twice with UVM officials, and agreed to drop their request for an updated study. Instead, they're exploring plans for the university to provide land on which a nonprofit developer can build new affordable housing units. No specific site has yet been designated.

Also in June, VIA asked the city to tighten its Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) regulation, which allows developers to make cash payments in lieu of building a certain percentage of affordable housing units into their new construction. In recent months, that proposal made progress in the City Council's Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization Committee, but "hit a speed bump" in the Planning Commission, which is currently in the midst of a major review of the city's zoning ordinances. "If the proposed change to the IZ ordinance is absorbed into the zoning rewrite," says Curry, "it will be stalled there for months."

VIA also asked the city to explore the possibility of building more affordable housing on two city-owned parking lots - at St. Paul and King streets and on Elmwood Avenue. Thus far, no proposal has been brought to the City Council.

Finally, VIA has moved ahead on a "Yes in My Back Yard (YIMBY) Outreach Program" to generate community support for affordable housing. The group expects to have a visual presentation and fact sheet available for its congregations by February.

Meanwhile, actually creating new affordable housing units remains an elusive goal.

» Read the full list of 2006 news updates.