South Burlington Housing Summit: Affordable Housing Committee Investigates Options

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Thursday November 29, 2012

South Burlington expects around 400 more households to move into the city during the next five years. As part of a citywide planning effort, the South Burlington Affordable Housing Committee is investigating housing costs, demographic changes and housing development trends in the city. The committee will be providing the City Council with recommendations on how South Burlington can continue to be a community with a quality of life that is attractive to new residents.
As part of that effort, the South Burlington Affordable Housing Committee hosted the first in a series of neighborhood meetings on November 15. 
Keynote speaker Jeanne Morrissey, who is a licensed professional civil engineer, born in 1958 and raised in Burlington, offered her perspective on the changes she has seen in housing needs. Morrissey grew up being taught that she should work hard, save her money, and strive to own a home. So, she did those things and considers herself lucky that she grew up at the time she did because today, “I’m not sure what I would do. Then, acquiring a home had a lot to do with what you did for a living. Now, folks who were able to get a home before are asking how they can keep their homes. There is definitely something broken. The cost of everything is going up and families need to be creative…used to be able to get by on a lot less,” Morrissey said.
Members of the Affordable Housing Committee shared their perspectives on housing issues in South Burlington in a panel discussion. Panel members included: Chair Sandy Dooley, Former Burlington City Attorney Ken Schatz, Amy Wright of Cathedral Square Corporation, Leslie Black-Plumeau of VHFA, Eric Farrell of Farrell Real Estate, and John Simson, an affordable housing consultant.
Eric Farrell, who builds mainly apartments and condos, expressed interest in determining how to solve the affordable housing issue over the long run. “’Affordable’ can be a misleading term” Farrell said, “How can we encourage more development in an appropriate way?”
Leslie Black Plumeau’s work for the committee was funded by HUD and the ECOS grant. She presented data analysis, specific to SB, which will be available for public viewing via a link on South Burlington’s website soon. According to her findings, SB is growing at a rate of about 1% per year, twice as fast as the country as a whole. Plumeau showed graphs reflecting the breakout in percentages of owners and renters in SB and Chittenden County. The most striking of the data presented revealed that 70% of SB households are 1-2 person. Her charts also compared factors such as median household income, household type, household size, median home prices, and housing cost burden. Currently, there are 1000 SB households spending at least 50% of their income on housing, 600 of these are renter households. These individuals are “severely cost burdened” with the most pressing needs among renters. There is a nationwide trend toward growth in rental housing and South Burlington reflects this. Although, Jessica Louisos was quick to point out that she thinks a lot of people want to be able to purchase a home with space to grow and have children and that if young couples could afford to purchase a home, they would likely choose that over renting.
Dooley added that economic insecurity is also a factor in deciding whether to rent or own. Not knowing how long one is going to be in a job or having to move for work impacts the decision. “The economy is influencing trends of homeownership,” she said.
One South Burlington resident, who said he has five children, none of whom live in the area anymore due to lack of opportunity, said that we need to look at the broader issues of opportunities for jobs. Dooley mentioned that she has heard that businesses don’t want to locate here because of the cost of housing. Which in turn, brought up the question: Do we need more rentals if young people are leaving anyway? Most agreed that people should be able to come here, live here, and work here.
City boards and commissions were well represented at the meeting. Among those present were Council members Paul Engels and Helen Riehle, City Council Chair Rosanne Greco, DRB vice chair Bill Stuono, DRB member Art Klugo, Planning Commission Chair Jessica Louisos, Planning Commission member Sophie Quest, Development Coordinator Kimberly Murray and SBSD Superintendent David Young.
Superintendent David Young said that we need to look at the future of schools, business, education and housing. “We need to look at everything,” Young said. He mentioned that currently, the school district is partnering with local businesses to see what their current and future needs will be to help build students’ skills in those areas.
The committee is also interested in hearing what community members think about future housing in City Center and other neighborhoods around the city and are seeking responses to the following questions:  What is appealing about living in South Burlington? What do you like most about your neighborhood? Will your housing needs change in the future? Where should new housing, including affordable housing, be located in South Burlington?
The final meeting will be held Thursday, November 29th at 7 p.m. in the FHT Middle School Library to continue the discussion of why residents choose South Burlington, and what makes the city and their neighborhood an appealing place to live. For more information contact Kimberly Murray, Development Coordinator,  at 846-4131, or kmurray@sburl.com.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent