In July, I moved to South Burlington after living for 13 years in Essex Junction and Essex Town. I thought I had escaped constant argument over their identities and choice of a new name. Instead, I find the same argument happening in South Burlington.
The split from Burlington and renaming happened in the mid-1860s during our American Civil War 160 years ago. The SoBu nickname came out of a process open to the voting public and publicized over time within the city. That was the time to pay attention and register disagreement. Apparently few citizens did wither.
Whether or not the nickname survives, what is most disturbing is the negative tone that has seeped into the discussion and turned it into an argument. This argument is displacing awareness of the truly troublesome conditions in South Burlington: 500 school students qualify for free or reduced lunches. This number does not include families who opt out of using the program because of food shaming toward their children from other students. That number translated into at least 200 food insecure families per month. Local residents, including our city manager Kevin Dorn, are working to open a private food pantry.
Dozens of South Burlington employees cannot live here because of high housing costs. During my own housing search in June, I found rental rates for South Burlington one bedrooms on Craigslist higher than many similar rentals in Burlington. Which would a young buyer prefer, a house in South Burlington for $145,000, or a new four bedroom house in Underhill for $200,00? Current housing costs in South Burlington are unsustainable economically and already put living here out of reach for our children and grandchildren.
The name South Burlington has not damaged our economic well-being to date. What can and will damage it is residents who refuse to move on to discussing how to evaluate and plan for our current serious structural problems. These structural problems must be our main concern if they are not to threaten growing a future livable South Burlington community.
South Burlington Affordable Housing Committee