Mayor’s Office

BTV Housing Policy Reform

BTV Housing Policy Reform

For many years, Burlington has faced a housing crisis. Meanwhile, right now, progressive cities around the country are looking to housing policy as a solution to many of our central challenges, and reforming outdated land use policies that increase income inequality, promote sprawl, and drive up rents. Here in Burlington, we can do the same.

In his annual State of the City address on April 1, 2019, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced a plan to bring focus, urgency, and resolution to a years-long effort to reform housing policy in Burlington. This plan has three main pieces:

  • BTV Housing Summit: On June 11, the City hosted the BTV Housing Summit to discuss five key areas for policy reform, hear from partners and community members about how to get these right, and begin developing a list for what policy reforms should come next. See below for video of the BTV Housing Summit and a report that summarizes the event.
  • Initial recommendations: Based on input from the Summit, on Wednesday, September 4, 6:00-8:00 pm, the City will hold a second public meeting to share initial recommendations and proposals for housing policy reform and gather additional input.
  • Action: The Administration will deliver draft ordinances for housing policy reforms to the Planning Commission and City Council for formal vetting and action in fall 2019.

About the Policies

While there will be more work to do on housing policy reform, the focus in summer-fall 2019 is on the below five areas, which are remaining, unfinished business from the City's 2015 Housing Action Plan. These policies are all aimed at increasing housing affordability and creating housing supply. These policies are:

Housing Trust Fund –     restoring and increasing funding to the City's Housing Trust Fund, which provides grants and loans for the promotion, retention and creation of long-term affordable housing
Learn more about the Housing Trust Fund: "Housing Trust Fund," City of Burlington, last updated May 2019.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) –     rule changes to make it easier to create small houses or apartments that exist on the same property lot as a single-family residence, which are known as Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs
Learn more about ADUs: 1) "The ABCs of ADUs: A guide to Accessory Dwelling Units and how they expand housing options for people of all ages," AARP, 2019 [PDF], and 2) "Accessory Dwelling Units in Burlington," CEDO, February 2019 [PDF].

Short-term rentals –     regulating short-term rentals like Airbnb in order to balance the economic benefit for Burlingtonians with potential impacts on renters and neighborhoods
Learn more about short-term rentals and cities:

Parking minimums –     changing the parking we require for new homes, especially in the downtown
Learn more about parking minimums: 1) "People Over Parking," Planning, October 2018, and 2) "How Parking Requirements Hurt the Poor," The Washington Post, March 2016.

Energy efficiency in rental housing –     updates to protect renters from unreasonably and wastefully high utility costs
Learn more about energy efficiency in rental housing: 1) "Cities Hold the Keys to Greener, More Efficient Homes," Rocky Mountain Institute, April 2019, and 2) "Time of Sale Energy Efficiency Ordinance," Burlington Electric Department.

For greater detail about each of these five topic areas, check out this report [PDF].

About the BTV Housing Summit

On June 11, 2019, the city hosted the BTV Housing Summit to kick-off a community conversation about housing policy reform. The BTV Housing Summit consisted of two pieces: A daytime working meeting noon-5:00 pm. and an evening Town Hall meeting 6:00-8:00 pm. About 200 people attended the Summit, and during both sessions, attendees heard from keynote speaker Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender about housing policy reform in a national context, broke into small groups to workshop fiv specific areas for reform, and self-organized in an "Open Space" session to start generating a list of what housing policy reforms should come next.

Now, the Administration is analyzing what we heard at the Summit and developing initial recommendations for housing policy reform.

Couldn't make it to the BTV Housing Summit? Thanks to CCTV, you can watch the plenary portion in the video below or on the CCTV website. This video includes the keynote from Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender, Q&A with President Bender moderated by Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur, framing from Mayor Miro Weinberger, and short presentations from City staff on the five policy areas.

You can also read a report [PDF] that summarizes the day, including in-depth information about the five topic areas and the feedback that attendees shared.

Background:

When we create more homes in our urban centers, we fight climate change by structuring our land use in a way that requires less energy to meet our heating, cooling, and ground transportation needs. Downtown residents produce half or less of the climate emissions of their suburban counterparts.

When we create more homes, we strengthen our local businesses by addressing their top concern: that our shortage of housing makes it tough to attract and retain workers and create new jobs.

When we create more homes, we share the costs of our high-quality public services and amenities over a larger tax base.

When we create more homes, we open up the opportunity for welcoming new Burlingtonians into our neighborhoods, and becoming a more racially diverse and inclusive community.

When we create more homes, we fight income inequality in the most potent way we can as local officials. Indeed, President Obama released a report just before he left office citing local regulations that stifle housing creation as one of the country’s major drivers of income inequality.

When we create more resources for those experiencing homelessness, we make good on our deeply-held value of caring for the most vulnerable in our community.

In short, when we create more homes, we are taking a step toward a future where housing is a human right and where Burlington is the sustainable, vibrant, affordable, inclusive, and equitable place that we strive to be.

Other progressive cities around the country are taking up the mantle of housing reform. In Minneapolis, a grassroots group Neighbors for More Neighbors just successfully advocated to upzone large swaths of the city to address its history of redlining and exclusion. In Seattle, Boston, Madison, and other cities, progressive activist groups are pushing the forces of the status quo to say yes to more housing, with the goal of creating truly walkable, affordable, and diverse cities.

Burlington faces a similar, long-simmering challenge. For decades, well-intentioned but highly restrictive land use rules have kept housing supply from keeping up with dramatically rising demand. As a result, the average Burlingtonian spends more than 40 percent of their income on rent, making us one of the most expensive communities in the country to live in.

For the last seven years we have been charting a different course with a two-part strategy: 1) We have continued Burlington’s proud legacy of building as much permanently affordable housing as possible; and 2) We also have pursued policies and proactive efforts to create more homes for households of all backgrounds. This second strategy recognizes that there will never be enough subsidies to solve our housing problems with traditional affordable housing solutions alone, and both permanently affordable homes and all new homes are important.

This effort to increase more homes for all – more housing supply – is working. There has been anecdotal evidence of this for a while, including last spring when Seven Days reported that the 300 new beds in Champlain College’s 194 St. Paul Street building were “spurring competition to fill student rentals that once could practically lease themselves... In response, some landlords are cutting rents. Others are waiving deposits.”

We are now starting to see this progress in the data. The City recently commissioned a study of vacancy trends in the apartment market. We studied vacancy rates because very low vacancy rates drive rent increases and often other problems for tenants and the City. The report findings are clear. During the years 2006 to 2011 the city produced only 67 new apartments and had an average vacancy rate of just .7 percent during that period. Over the past seven years housing production jumped to 579 new homes and the average vacancy rate more than doubled to 1.5 percent.

Now, 1.5 percent is still too low. We will need to see sustained vacancy rates of twice that or more to get to our affordability and inclusion goals. However, these trends of increased new homes and rising vacancy rates refute the idea that new housing supply doesn’t matter, and should be seen as a call to more action.

There is much more for us to do. For years, we have had consensus that numerous local regulations were getting in the way of creating new homes, but progress to reform them is not happening quickly enough. In order to make more timely progress, we need to bring focus and urgency to this effort.

To that end, the Mayor’s Office will host the Burlington Housing Summit on June 11 in order to review a range of key housing policies that we first outlined in our 2015 Housing Action Plan, including: Our downtown parking policies, rule changes to create more Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) throughout the City, increased funding to our local Housing Trust Fund, policies to regulate short-term rentals, and updates to protect renters from unreasonably and wastefully high utility costs. The Summit will also include space to hear from the community about other ideas we should consider in the future.

We plan to emerge from this summit with a list of priority housing initiatives that the Administration will spearhead in consultation with the City Council, the Planning Commission, housing stakeholders, and the public in the coming months. Our goal will be to deliver draft ordinances for these priority reforms to the Council for formal vetting and action this fall.

For decades, our community has struggled with the cost of housing. Let us resolve together that 2019 will be the year we accomplish the structural fixes needed to make housing for all a reality.

- Adapted from Mayor Miro Weinberger’s annual State of the City address, April 1, 2019