- Jeb Wallace Brodeur
- Up End This founder Michael Zebrowski at his new shop
After spending a couple of decades studying and teaching architecture, Johnson resident Michael Zebrowski is using what he has learned to solve some of the thorniest problems plaguing society today.
Zebrowski's company, Up End This, manufactures mobile buildings and has been contracted to create 10 of the 30 "shelter pods" that the City of Burlington will deploy this summer as it looks for ways to end homelessness.
The Up End This pods that Burlington is purchasing aren't tiny homes; at just 64 square feet, without a bathroom or kitchen, they're one-room shelters with a bed and a desk. The structures are intended to provide some much-needed personal space for people who are waiting for more permanent housing.
"Our shelter pods are designed to provide folks experiencing some of the most difficult times in their lives a quality space with a light and airy interior," Zebrowski said. He notes that when the city doesn't need the pods as shelter, they easily can be moved elsewhere to serve as retail kiosks or small offices. Since the company's launch in 2020, he's sold nearly a dozen pods — which are available in slightly larger sizes — as guesthouses, studios, coffee shops and home offices.
- Courtesy Of City Of Burlington
- Shelter pods by Up End This
Zebrowski has pondered the idea of mobile housing since he earned a master's degree at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. With the climate crisis and geopolitical upheaval at hand, the concept's time has come, he said.
"It creates a different kind of thinking," Zebrowski said of the flexible form.
The city contract marks a big step forward for Up End This. In 2020, Zebrowski took part in JumpStart, a three-month entrepreneurial boot camp run by Burlington's Generator makerspace and the Lake Champlain Chamber.
Since then, his pods have started popping up in public places. Hardwick's Front Seat Coffee bought one to use as a satellite location, and South Burlington nightclub Higher Ground has ordered two to use as greenrooms for its Shelburne Museum concert series this summer.
In March, Zebrowski moved the pod manufacturing from Burlington to Manufacturing Solutions in Morristown. He's seeking investors to help him build his own production facility and hopes to hire a dozen people this spring.
He's also looking ahead to a time when someone who lives in a mobile unit could receive mail, just as those in permanent homes can. He expects initiating that conversation to be complicated, but he's up for the challenge.
"One of the most difficult parts of finding oneself homeless is not having an address," he said. "Why not think of a way to create a mobile structure that has a GPS signature address?"
- Jared Miller of Yellow Dog Contracting in Burlington
Home renovations in Vermont are hot. Jared Miller, owner of Yellow Dog Contracting in Burlington, is booked up until winter and has stopped taking on new clients.
Miller estimates that he gets three to five inquiries a day, most of them from people who recently moved to Vermont from out of state.
The newcomers tend to have more money to spend than he's seen in the past. Before COVID-19, Miller said, the average cost of one of his kitchen renovations was around $30,000. These days, it's $50,000.
"Some of it is material cost, but a lot of it is just what people want to do and the amount of detail they are looking for," Miller said.
He welcomes the steady work and the difference it makes for his employees and subcontractors. But he said it's been an adjustment.
"I grew up in New Jersey, and it reminds me more of being there than in Vermont," he said. "Everyone is a bit more motivated to just get things done quickly."
Mark Your Calendar
Unable to find a contractor who has time to take on new jobs, some homeowners are tackling their updates themselves.
For those DIYers, a multitude of tips and workshops awaits at Efficiency Vermont's Better Buildings by Design conference. The annual event, which normally draws 800 to 1,000 people, is returning to its in-person format at the DoubleTree hotel in South Burlington on April 27 and 28.
Efficiency Vermont's goal is to help Vermonters save money and lower their carbon emissions. The conference, which attracts industry professionals and regular homeowners, aims to showcase local and national research, experts and products on energy savings.
One session, on April 27 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., is called "The Perfect House," and it features an array of short presentations from efficiency experts and builders on balancing priorities such as affordability, energy efficiency and comfort.
"For someone who is getting ready to do home renovation, they're going to see a lot of designs that are affordable, energy efficient and appropriately sized," said Laura Capps, Efficiency Vermont's emerging technologies and services manager.
Other sessions cover such topics as indoor air quality, smart homes, heat pumps and innovations in insulation.
"If you want to know more about construction, you're going to see the best of the best and have access to the most intelligent people in the industry," Capps said. "And they're going to be willing to talk to you."
- Kathy Sweeten, CEO of the Vermont Association of Realtors
Vermont's housing inventory may be at a historic low, but its inventory of Realtors has been on the rise. Membership in the Vermont Association of Realtors grew 11 percent between February 2021 and February 2022.
Membership typically increases by about 3 percent per year, said Kathy Sweeten, CEO of the Montpelier-based trade association. The current number of member Realtors, 2,011, seems high to her, but she noted that it's probably not a record because of how technology has changed the way real estate is bought and sold in recent years.
Sweeten thinks the state's busy real estate market prompted much of last year's interest in joining the association. She also saw a lot more applications than usual from Realtors who were moving into the state.
And, of course, the pandemic turned many people's lives — and jobs — upside down. "More people saw it as an opportunity to possibly make a career change," Sweeten said.
Now that the real estate market is tighter than it's ever been, "we may see the number of Realtors drop a little bit," Sweeten said. "There is not a lot out there to sell."
By the Numbers
583: The number of Vermont homes available for sale in mid-March. Two years ago, there were 2,775.
$305,000: The median price a house in Vermont sold for in February 2022. That's down 8.4 percent from the median price of $333,000 in January but 10.9 percent higher than the median price of $275,000 in February 2021.
$445,000: The median price a house in Chittenden County sold for in February 2022. That's up 2 percent from the median price of $435,000 in January and 11.3 percent higher than the median price of $400,000 in February 2021.