Mayor’s Office

September 2019 Update from Mayor Weinberger: Summer construction, housing in Burlington, and PAL Camp

September 2019

Summer is slowly winding down, and kids are now back to school. Our family had an outstanding summer filled with excursions along the Bike Path, dinners at Summervale, and hiking all around Vermont. Last week, Ada started her first year as a kindergartener at IAA and Li Lin is now in eighth grade. In City government we are looking forward to a very busy fall.

Summer Construction

This summer, our Public Works team managed another season of historically high investments in our public infrastructure, including water lines, streets, and sidewalks. This increased investment is a result of the City’s sustainable infrastructure bond, supported by 76% of voters in 2016. While all of these investments are necessary and in most cases, long overdue, I recognize that some projects took longer than expected this year. Before the next construction season, I will be working with the Public Works team to evaluate our contracting and project management protocols to look for new ways to shorten these disruptions going forward.

Making Burlington more affordable and equitable

I have long believed that Burlington – like many other thriving communities – is facing a slow-moving but serious housing crisis.  Decades of rising housing costs relative to our incomes – the average Burlington renter now spends more than 40% of their income on rent – threatens much of what we hold dear.  Young, old, low-income, and middle class households are all being priced out of or denied a home in the city, development dislocated from our downtown contributes to the erosion of our beloved Vermont countryside and undermines our critical efforts to reduce carbon emissions, businesses struggle to recruit and retain employees, and our commitment to diversity is undercut.

We can change this trajectory and choose a greener, more inclusive, equitable, walkable, and affordable future. Burlington is one of many progressive cities around the country that is grappling with the root cause of much of our housing challenge: while demand for homes in our great community steadily rises, long-standing land use policies restrict the supply of much-needed new homes driving costs up.

In recent years we have faced this challenge directly and worked to create hundreds of new permanently affordable and market rate homes.  Recent reports show that these efforts are starting to work – vacancy rates are going up and housing inflation is leveling off.  We have also fought hard to continue and in some ways expand Burlington’s proud record of building and preserving permanently affordable homes. However, these gains are fragile and we have more work to do.

In April, I announced in my State of the City address a plan to bring new focus and urgency to five key areas of unfinished business from the City’s Housing Action Plan. In each of these areas, we have the opportunity to make structural fixes that will help address the supply and affordability of housing in Burlington. These five areas are:

  • Updating our standards for energy efficiency in rental housing in order to support our climate goals and protect renters from unreasonably high utility costs;
  • Making it easier for people to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) which offer more flexibility for families to age in place, offset housing costs for homeowners, and create additional neighborhoodscale housing options throughout the city;
  • Implementing new regulations for shortterm rentals (like Airbnb) that help us reduce impacts on longterm housing availability and neighborhoods, while balancing the economic benefit for Burlingtonians who are hosts;
  • Reforming our requirements for building new parking in new residential developments in our downtown and along key transportation corridors, in order to reduce a major cost driver of housing and give people more choices when it comes to the cost of car ownership; and
  • Continuing Burlington’s proud legacy of building as much permanently affordable housing as possible by restoring and increasing the level of funding for the City’s Housing Trust Fund.

In June, we kicked off the public conversation about these ideas with the BTV Housing Summit where, over the course of two meetings and dozens of small group conversations, we got to hear from more than 200 Burlingtonians and other stakeholders about housing in Burlington, how to get it right in these five areas, and – knowing that there will be more work to do – what policy reforms should come next. Later this fall, we will present this package to the Council with the goal of implementing these reforms and making Burlington a place where everyone can afford a home.

Lastly, I also am planning to attend all of the NPA meetings in September to talk more with you about housing in Burlington and other issues.

Mayor’s Book Group

On September 26, we’ll be talking more about housing at the seventh meeting of the “Mayor’s Book Group,” where we’ll be discussing the book “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein. The book is about the role that housing policy played in segregating America. The New York Times calls it “powerful and disturbing,” and the history it tells is one that continues to require our understanding, attention, and action. Free copies of the book are available for pick up now at three locations, thanks to our co-host the UVM Humanities Center. Those three locations: The Mayor's Office in City Hall (third floor at 149 Church Street), the circulation desk at the Fletcher Free Library, and the UVM Humanities Center.

First P.A.L. Camp is a Success!

The City launched an exciting new program this summer to help children and families in the transition back to school. After hearing from Burlington families that it was tough to find youth opportunities and child care during the two-week window before the start of school, the City stepped in to fill the gap. For the first time, three of our City departments -- the Library, Parks Department, and Burlington City Arts – partnered to run two week-long camps to fill this August gap in opportunities and better serve Burlingtonians. Over these two weeks, PAL (as in Parks, Arts, and Library!) campers are explored the outdoors, read and created stories, learned to make jewelry and other art projects, and participated in other activities that draw on the many strengths of these three City departments. We also offered scholarships and transportation for qualified Burlington residents.

As always, I encourage you to join me at the Bagel Café on Wednesday mornings from 8-9am to share any thoughts or questions. You can also visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MiroBTV/, or follow me on Twitter at @BTVMayor for information on the work of the Mayor’s Office and our City Departments. I look forward to seeing you soon.