The City's New Assault on Affordable Housing

The City has hired a consultant to analyze how well our inclusionary zoning requirements have been working over the last 25 years, and basically concluded that the requirement for a new development to include 15% of units that are called affordable, but are not, is an obstacle to growth. The consultants suggest giving developers more in order to get the so-called affordable units, reducing the threshold for number of units that would require Inclusionary zoning at all, raising the percentage of income at which a resident would qualify for an IZ unit from 65% to a range between 50 and 80%, and reducing the payment "in lieu" which a developer would pay if he or she did not provide the pittance of non-affordable "affordable units". The Community Development Neighborhood Revitalization committee, chaired for now by Selene Colburn (on her way to the State House in March), is accepting public comments on the report, which you can find here: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/CityCouncil/CEDONeighborhoodRevitalizationCommittee

Please send your comments to the committee here: scolburn@burlingtonvt.gov and tell the City that we will not accept treacherous compromises on a regulation that is already far too weak. We want real solutions to affordable housing, not policies that enable developers to price us out of our city!

Here are my comments for the public record:

The conclusions of the IZ report were based on data from 1990 to 2015, and are based on a presumption that the 25 years of IZ requirements have inhibited growth in Burlington. The report aims to provide ideas about how the inhibition of IZ can be lessened so that we can encourage more development in the city. The goal of this new development is said to be to provide more affordable housing and to create economic integration and the assumption is that if we follow their suggestions, we will "move the needle" toward better fulfillment of these goals.

There are two basic problems with this analysis. 

The first and most glaring is that we know from the last year and from the planned units for 2017/18 that our current IZ requirements DO NOT INHIBIT GROWTH in the city. To say that the committee can simply factor in the new growth and use the basic premises of the report is highly illogical. The report is based on a fallacy. Our IZ requirements are not inhibiting growth in the city now. Cambrian Rise, Eagles Landing, Fletcher Place, the S.D. Ireland complex, Bright Street, Winooski Avenue, and more on the way. We are in a building boom. 

The second problem is that enabling more development in lower-income areas actually raises the median rent in these areas--does not lower it. Since the average rent in lower-income areas is actually lower than the inclusionary zoning rates in some areas, the introduction of a new building with 15% of units that are slightly more expensive than the average and 85% of units that are way more expensive than the average is not "economic integration". It is displacement, pure and simple.  We are moving wealthier people into poorer neighborhoods and pretending we are doing it for the sake of the poor and underprivileged. It is criminal and must be stopped.

Instead of bending over backwards to get more development that makes rents higher in the city, instead of lowering the threshold of units that require IZ, instead of lowering the in lieu payment costs, instead of changing the median rate of income eligibility from 65% to 50-80%, we should be working to discourage building that prices out lower income residents, we should be providing tax breaks for property owners to renovate without raising rents, we should be raising minimum wage (which we are doing, I hope), and considering rent control and other more radical options. 

While the bonding and levy concept tried over the last 7 years in Seattle and suggested in the report may be a good path, it is astonishing that the consultants would suggests something and then not be able to tell us whether this project had achieved the expected results. We all know that Seattle is highly gentrified, and it was mentioned last night that they have a serious homelessness problem. Do we really want to be following in their footsteps?

In conclusion, in contrast to the glowing reviews I heard last night about this report, I urge you to go back to the drawing board, in communication with local experts (no more expensive outside consultants, please!), to write a report based on current vacancy rates and current building rates. This report, I repeat, is based on 2 glaringly false premises and cannot, under those circumstances, be considered reliable. It cannot simply be tweaked or amended. It is fundamentally flawed and following its conclusions would destroy our city. 

Sincerely, 

Genese Grill