BTV makes progress on all five housing policy reforms

City Council moves toward adoption of “rental weatherization” ordinance change

Vermont Business Magazine Today, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced that the City has made significant progress on a slate of five housing policy reforms that the Administration presented to the City Council for action in October 2019, following the Mayor’s two well-attended Housing Summits earlier that year. These five policies were all designed to make housing in Burlington more available and affordable. Currently, three of the five proposals have been approved, and at its meeting on Monday, March 8, the City Council unanimously voted to decide on the adoption of the fourth proposal at its upcoming March 22 meeting. The fifth proposal is at an advanced stage of committee discussion.

“To solve the housing crisis we face as a community, we need to build a lot more homes,” said Mayor Weinberger. “Over the last nine years more than 1,300 homes for households of all income levels have been built in Burlington, and in 2019 we launched five critical policy reforms to ensure that this progress continues. Now, after two years of hard work, these policies are nearly all in place, and they are starting to have an impact on the housing challenges that so many Burlingtonians face. I am appreciative of the City team, City Councilors, and Planning Commissioners who have been part of hammering out the details of these proposals, and I look forward to continuing the necessary work ahead to make housing more available and affordable in Burlington.”

All five of the housing policy proposals are structural reforms that advance a two-part housing strategy: 1) Continuing Burlington’s proud legacy of building as much permanently affordable housing as possible and ensuring protections for tenants; and 2) Simultaneously pursuing policies and proactive efforts to create more homes for households of all backgrounds in order to increase the vacancy rate in Burlington.

Background and Status of Five “Housing Summit” Policy Reforms

The five reforms represent key areas of unfinished business from the City’s 2015 Housing Action Plan, and Mayor Weinberger announced in his State of the City address in April 2019 a plan to bring focus, urgency, and resolution to all five areas. Following from that address, the City hosted the BTV Housing Summit in June 2019 and a second public meeting on housing policy reform in September 2019, and in October 2019, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution that referred each of the proposals to several of its committees and the Planning Commission.

What follows is a summary of each of the five proposals and its current status:

Accessory Dwelling Units:

· About: This policy change is designed to make it easier for people to create Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which offer more flexibility for families to age in place, offset housing costs for homeowners, and create additional neighborhood-scale housing options throughout the City. Public process around this policy change included four meetings of the Joint Committee, a work session of the City Council, and a public hearing at the City Council.

· Status: This policy change was unanimously adopted by the City Council in February 2020, and the City approved zoning permits for six new ADUs in calendar year 2020.

Housing Trust Fund

· About: This policy change restores and increases the level of dedicated funding to Burlington’s Housing Trust Fund, which support the creation and preservation of permanently affordable housing. The City Council voted 10-2 in January 2020 to send this proposal to voters on the Town Meeting Day ballot, and 69 percent of voters approved this change to the City Charter in March 2021.

· Status: The City delayed implementing this increase in Fiscal Year 2021 in recognition of the financial impact that Covid-19 has had on many residents, but plans to implement this increase in Fiscal Year 2022. The annual funding to the Housing Trust Fund is projected to increase from $200,384 to $494,775.

Parking minimums

· About: This policy change reforms the City’s requirements for building new parking in residential developments in the downtown and along key transportation corridors, in order to reduce a major cost driver of housing, give people more choices when it comes to the cost of car ownership, and take a step toward aligning the City’s land use policies with its climate goals. Public process around this policy change included a number of meetings of the Joint Committee and a work session of the City Council.

· Status: This policy change was unanimously adopted by the City Council in September 2020. In the few months since this change was implemented, two significant projects have applied for permits to create housing that would benefit from this policy change, for a combined 490 new homes (426 as part of CityPlace Burlington and 64 as part of a proposed senior housing development), and several others are under consideration.

Energy efficiency in rental housing

· About: This policy change updates standards for energy efficiency in rental housing in order to support Burlington’s climate goals and protect renters from unreasonably high utility costs. Public process around this policy change included stakeholder meetings with owners and developers of rental properties, and several meetings of the City Council’s Ordinance Committee that included public comment.

· Status: At its March 8 meeting, the City Council voted to set this policy change for adoption at its upcoming meeting on March 22.

Short-term rentals

· About: This policy change implements new regulations for short-term rentals like Airbnb, in order to reduce impacts on long-term housing availability and neighborhoods, while also balancing the economic benefit for Burlingtonians who are hosts.

· Status: This policy change is currently under consideration by the Joint Committee of the Planning Commission and the City Council Ordinance Committee.

Source: 3.9.2021 Office of Mayor Miro Weinberger