What are some of Burlington’s thoughts about housing reform?

Local News

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger held a city housing summit in June to discuss what can be done to make housing more affordable, including making new homes and apartments easier to build.

His office, and other city staff members, have come up with a series of housing reform proposals in light of the discussions at the June summit.

Some of the particulars of the reform proposals are still being worked on and won’t be available until a follow-up forum the mayor’s office is holding on Wednesday, September 4th.

However, some of the city’s thinking became clear Tuesday night at a Burlington Planning Commission meeting.

One of the reform proposals will have to do with the Housing Trust Fund, which helps pay for construction and retention of affordable housing. It got about the same amount of property tax revenue this year that it got in 1990, and inflation has eroded the buying power of that money.

The city used to charge homeowners one penny in taxes for the fund for every $100 of property value. However, in 2006, that rate was cut to just a half-penny.

“We’re just looking to re-establish the level of funding to what it was pre-2006,” Meagan Tuttle of the Burlington Department of Planning & Zoning said.

Raising the tax rate for the Housing Trust Fund back to the old level would require amending the city charter, so city staff are going to ask for that charter change to be considered for the Town Meeting Day ballot next March.

“If we were able to bring this back up to the full penny, it would essentially ensure the commitment that’s currently being made by the city using general fund dollars to about $400,000 a year,” Tuttle said.

The city says there are more than 400 short-term rental units in Burlington, offered on websites like Airbnb, but fewer than 20 of them have a permit from the city to operate that way. There are concerns that many of these units are entire houses…which people that want to live in the Queen City can’t rent.

“One of the pieces of this policy that we’re thinking about is really treating them as commercial use and applying our housing replacement ordinance when they’re replacing a long-term housing unit for a short-term housing purpose,” Tuttle said.

Quite a few owners of short-term rental properties won’t have to worry about that.

“If someone is going out of town for a week — or a month, even — and says, ‘I’d like to rent my house out as an Airbnb while I’m out of town’, that’s great,” the mayor’s chief of staff, Jordan Redell, said. “If you have a room in your house and you want to rent that out as an Airbnb, that’s great. It’s really the investment properties.”

Other proposals are expected to involve mandating energy efficiency in rental housing and changing the parking minimums required for new housing in certain areas of the city.

The Planning Commission is considering holding two extra meetings in early October to work on some of these proposals.

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