Lessons from the Campaign Trail

Meaghan Emery

Going door-to-door and meeting with residents is one of the best things an elected official can do: it’s the best way to hear directly from the people we wish to serve.

I’m gratified to hear that the Penny for Paths initiative is so popular and that people are making use of our walking and biking trails, including in the winter thanks to our top-notch snow removal crew.

I’m concerned that my neighbors in Chamberlin neighborhood continue to suffer from military jet noise, which has a direct affect on their quality of life if not on their home values. The Airport’s current request to rezone 11 acres of land where homes once stood must be met and addressed from the point of view of these residents. Their quality of life must come first.

I’m also gratified to hear people’s support for the Housing Trust Fund, which the Council wishes to grow by $1 million thanks to ARPA (American Recovery Plan) funds.

Residents are also supportive of the new Land Development Regulations, unanimously passed by the Planning Commission last December and approved by the Council last week, because they will support our housing, energy, and climate action priorities: small lots with energy efficient homes that are densely built so that our natural infrastructure — our wetlands and forests — can protect us against the worst impacts of climate change to come.

This past week I wrote a commentary for VT Digger, and I encourage you to read it if you are still trying to understand these new regulations and what they are specifically designed to accomplish. We need to provide homes in our community for people of all income levels, and the average price of a home in South Burlington ($450,000) is not accessible to all income levels. Fortunately, the federal and state governments have recognized the housing crisis and are providing needed support so that all people who work here can live here and we can bring more workers in.

This will not respond to everyone’s needs, however. Increased availability of what is called the “missing middle” in our available housing stock is still a nut we have to crack. Our middle-class residents with families seeking to move from a town house into a single family home or duplex are outbid in our hot housing market. Importantly, these residents wish to build equity in their homes, but these plans have long been frustrated by lack of houses in their price range.

So I come back to my conversations with many of the people I’ve met on the campaign trail: middle-class families seeking to upsize, and older couples seeking to downsize. And I think about what housing experts sensitive to the climate crisis have been saying for some time and what we here in South Burlington are trying to do: limit the development of suburban single family homes where our wetlands lie and redevelop our city core. Through our new regulations, as I describe above, we will see clustered development (minimum of 4 units per acre and required diversity of housing types and styles: duplexes, multiplexes, cottages) and the redevelopment of our core. By building condos, town houses, and apartments on empty parking lots and lots where empty storefronts once stood, we can take an important step forward in solving this piece of the housing puzzle.

Redevelopment is just as important if not more important than the dense new neighborhoods our regulations will now require throughout the city, with affordability requirements to boot. Older folks and younger folks, retirees, students, and people entering our labor market, stand to benefit from increased housing opportunities along our main thoroughfares, close to their places of work, schools, public transit, grocery stores, services, and other amenities. Redevelopment of our core, which we are designing to be walkable/bikable and green — with community gardens and parks — will lessen the pressure on our existing housing stock and new housing to come that will directly serve this missing middle. Again, home ownership must be a priority throughout, including in our core.

I and my colleagues on the Council have discussed these ideas before, and so testing them out as I walk from home to home speaking with residents has only fortified in my mind that new policy with these ideas at their basis is exactly what is needed.

I look forward to talking with residents about this more as I continue going door to door, and, if elected, I pledge to work hard with you as our partners to solve the dual crises that are the greatest challenge of our lifetimes: both our housing and our climate crises.