Why I care about affordability

groupe emery
chaulot groupe 2

How can the Council promote the creation of affordable housing in an expensive state?

Affordable workforce housing is necessary for our economic prosperity, and this type of housing is too expensive to build, developers say. In response, my colleagues and I on the Council:

  • Created the Affordable Housing Trust Fund
  • Established the Affordable Housing Committee
  • Expanded inclusionary zoning to allow for more affordable housing in densely developed areas

Thanks to our actions, we have:

  • More than 200 perpetually affordable residences in City Center (thanks to our partnership with Cathedral Square, the Champlain Housing Trust)
  • New owner-occupied and perpetually affordable condos on Hinesburg Rd (thanks to our partnership with Habitat for Humanity)
  • And more to come!

I have additionally advocated:

  • Expanding the use of TDRs (Transfer Development Rights) to increase the allowable footprint and building height (both in commercial and residential)
  • Requiring a minimum density of 4 units per acre in all new residential development, including cottages, duplexes, multiplexes, town homes, and condos
  • Reducing the footprint of new homes and requiring they be solar ready
  • Using $1 million of the funds South Burlington has received through the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) to prioritize the development of perpetually affordable housing through partnership with entities like Cathedral Square, CHT, and Habitat for Humanity

Here’s where my opponent and I differ: Inclusionary zoning is one way to promote affordability using the market as a tool. Unfortunately, because it only allows for 1 in 10 owner-occupied homes to be perpetually affordable and 2 in 10 homes for rental units, it is not a workable solution unless the development includes hundreds and hundreds of homes. My opponent seeks to shrink our conservation areas and build hundreds and hundreds more homes than our current regulations allow. For a smaller parcel or one containing sensitive natural resources, we need to add more tools to our affordable housing toolbox to balance affordable development with conservation and climate action goals. For this reason, I believe that we need to continue to partner with Cathedral Square, Champlain Housing Trust, and Habitat for Humanity – as we have in and near our City Center – in order to build many more affordable and owner-occupied homes (cottages, duplexes, town houses, and condos). These partnerships would allow us to build many more homes than what inclusionary zoning would provide. Fortunately, we have millions of dollars in federal ARPA (American Recovery Act) funds to do just that! Because workforce housing is a state-wide issue and has been recognized at the federal level, we have been given a unique opportunity now.

***We have received millions of dollars through ARPA (the American Recovery Act), which can be dedicated to various initiatives including affordable housing.***

I support the use of $1 million of this money in addition to inclusionary zoning to develop affordable housing in areas adjacent to our main thoroughfares and within reach of our employment centers — to relieve pressure on our housing stock for the “missing middle,” as it’s called. Much of this new housing should be near to public transportation to serve people without easy access to a car. These are the most excluded of our prospective residents. If you work in our city, you should be able to live in our city, and we can make it happen.

Providing housing for our working class and first-time homebuyers in an integrated way that is responsible and sensitive is within our grasp. By responsible and sensitive, I mean:

  • All residents should be within 1/4 mile of a park and/or natural area
  • Renters and homeowners in our affordable neighborhoods should have sufficient green space for a garden or access to a gardening plot
  • Buffers and transition zones should exist between housing developments of different densities and between developed areas and conservation areas

Garden plots should be included in infill plans in our more densely developed neighborhoods and in new affordable developments with cottage style housing, duplexes, and multiplex housing.

***Fortunately, the newly approved Land Development Regulations will make this happen.***

Residential and commercial growth: Both the Director of Public Works and the past Fire Chief have both stated publicly that we are nearing a point in development that would stretch City services too thin, thus requiring an increase in staffing levels and, therefore, a significant tax increase. The School District has shared that the same is true for our elementary schools and high school. I advocate a residential/commercial/open space balance not only for quality-of-life reasons but also for economic (i.e., tax base) reasons. It is important for Councilors to keep focused on maintaining the delicate balance between growth and affordability.

Why has this been central to my platform since I first ran for City Council?

In order to explain why I care about affordability, I have to explain why I care about the middle class, and it’s personal. My family benefited from living in an affordable neighborhood in order to stay in my hometown despite changing financial circumstances.

Here’s my story: I grew up in a middle-class family. When I was born, my father was a campus minister in Winona, MN. My mother was working as a 2nd grade teacher. When I was less than two years old and before my sister was born, we moved to the Chicago area (Lombard, IL) to be closer to my mom’s family. My dad found work at a new church, and my mom began teaching preschool so that she could be with my sister and me while we were small. My dad then changed positions and became assistant minister at the First United Methodist Church in Lombard. My parents borrowed money so that he could go to law school, and he pursued this double career. When he was seeking his first position in law, he had to leave his position at the church and my parents bought their first home. This is when he was hired to be an assistant state’s attorney for DuPage County (just west of Chicago). But, most importantly, we were living for a time (until I was 8 or 9) on very little money. What he earned they used to pay back law school loans and the mortgage, and my mom worked for the Bell Telephone Company, “Ma Bell,” as a phone operator to help pay the bills. So my earliest, most formative years were very modest, and my parents continued to live very frugally after that. My dad worked for the state’s attorney’s office for six years (from when I was six until I was twelve). He then joined a colleague’s private practice until opening his own office. When my sister and I were in our teens or pre-teens, my mom was able to return to teaching and began teaching math at York Community High School in Elmhurst, IL, through the Title 1, Part A Program for children from low-income families, but then lost her job when that federal education program faced cuts in the 1980s. When my dad opened his own law firm, he did a fair bit of pro bono work and, because he was also a minister, some people expected that. So, this might explain why I received a Federal Pell Grant to go to college. My teachers at Glenbard East High School, all of them excellent and so important to my personal and academic growth, encouraged me to apply where I wanted, telling me that I would likely receive financial aid (the prohibitive cost of higher education is another problem that needs solving today–it was still possible for modest-income families to send their children to college back in the 1980s).

I continue to be middle-class. When my husband and I moved here in 2002, we were stunned by the high-priced housing market. We were fortunate to find an old (circa 1959), though well-built home in the Chamberlin neighborhood that was selling for below $200,000 just two blocks from a public elementary school in South Burlington’s highly touted school district. Now it is worth well over that, and it’s no longer “affordable” from the point of view of a young family, such as we were when we moved here in 2002. Even without the renovations we’ve done, housing prices have soared in Chittenden County, including South Burlington. Simple one-story, two-bedroom ranches can sell for $300,000 or more. That is not affordable for a young family just starting out or for families in general. So I know personally that this is a problem, and I identify completely with families and individuals who would like to move into the area but find the housing costs prohibitive.

I know what it means to live on a tight budget. But not only that, I believe in the value of the middle class for our society. I was instilled with strong values in my middle-class upbringing and background: frugality, hard work, family, community, and service. These are the values that continue to drive me today, and my husband (also from a middle-class, more working-class background) and I hope to be imparting these values to our three children. We are working to make it possible for others to do so, too.

On the Council, I have therefore advocated strongly for the protection and enhancement of the affordable housing stock we have. This is why I have vigorously pursued noise abatement with our partners at the Burlington International Airport, in order to protect the remaining residences in the Chamberlin neighborhood. The home buyout program has concluded (thanks to the Council’s and my strong advocacy and action) and we are eagerly anticipating the start of the home insulation program. The removal of these homes has meant the removal of a noise buffer for the remaining residents, who have reported increased noise levels, even more so now that the F-35s have arrived at our Air Guard base. As a Council, we should be working to protect residents’ well-being, their assets, as well as the City’s property tax base. So it is all the more imperative that we protect it from further encroachment as the City’s Planning Commission considers the Airport’s request for a zoning change on the empty land where affordable homes once stood.

Affordability extends to all practical aspects of our lives: housing, transportation, utilities, fuel, goods, and municipal programs. Accordingly, the City is working to keep down costs by investing in solar energy and energy-saving light bulbs and HVAC systems. By lowering the City’s bills, we are lowering the tax-payers’ bill. We also seek to draw to our City a variety of businesses and stores — from local to national chains — that are accessible to different income levels. Finally, our public schools are one of our most important assets since they provide a high-quality education to all. Similarly, our Community Library and Recreation and Parks Department seek to make enrichment programming both easily available and affordable. The School District works closely with the City and vice versa to maintain the excellence of our programs and services while keeping tax rates as low as possible. If reelected to the Council, I will continue to voice the need for the City to meet residents’ ability to pay.