Burlington the Caring Community

Most people in Burlington really care about their less fortunate neighbors and refugees from around the world. The Food Bank in Burlington distributes free food and serves 158,000 people each year. It is the largest food bank in Vermont. It is the recipient of endless food drives and collection schemes put on by a vast array of public service organizations.

Burlington is very expensive for housing mainly due to a large college population that can afford to pay high rents downtown. Many college students choose to live downtown for their junior or senior years, mostly between the UVM campus and Church Street bars. There is also a terrible shortage of new housing being built downtown due to short sighted city policies and zoning rules that discourage the construction of new housing downtown. Hopefully that will change with Miro Weinberger as mayor. Miro was a developer of low and moderate priced housing in the area before he began his stint as mayor three years ago. He has consistently advocated for the construction of more housing downtown for market rate renters, students and low income people alike. One of his opponents in the mayor’s race last March was an advocate for rent control. Fortunately, he was trounced by Weinberger who had the support of over 68% of voters in the March 2015 election.

Burlington has a fairly large homeless problem due to a lack of affordable rentals downtown including a lot of families with children. Fortunately this problem has been addressed over the years by a very effective temporary housing non-profit called COTS (Committee On Temporary Shelter) run by long time housing advocate Rita Markley. COTS receives generous donations from a wide variety of caring people in Burlington and has been extremely successful in finding ways to house the homeless. There are a host of other programs in Burlington designed to address the affordable housing problem including the Burlington Land Trust, Section 8 housing vouchers, and low income housing projects and apartments for the elderly at numerous sites around the city. The city also has an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires developers of market rate housing to set aside at least 15% of any new development project for low income housing.

But in the long run the solution to Burlington’s housing problem is to build more housing downtown. UVM has built a lot more housing for college students near its campus on the hill. Champlain College has an active program to house all its students downtown and recently acquired several properties close to campus to do exactly that. One of those projects was held up temporarily by short sighted neighbors and others using zoning rules as a sword to thwart Champlain College plans to build a large student housing complex on St. Paul Street downtown, but that impediment was recently resolved and the project is about to proceed.

The developer who recently acquired the Burlington Town Center Mall, Don Sinex, is considering student housing, market rate housing and affordable housing and office space as part of his $200 million redevelopment plans. Form based zoning and less restrictive parking requirements advocated by Mayor Weinberger and many people in planning and zoning and on the City Council may also lead to more housing being constructed downtown.

Burlington is also the host city to a wide range of refugee resettlement programs that have resettled thousands of refugees from around the world in the Queen City. Burlington is much more diverse today than it was a decade ago. The city has opened its arms to these refugees many of whom are doing extremely well in small businesses started in the downtown area.

The long time real estate developer and philanthropist, Tony Pomerleau, has given countless dollars to programs for the less fortunate in Burlington including the Burlington Boys and Girls Club and the King Street Youth Center. Each year Tony throws a party at the Hilton downtown serving up a great Christmas meal for free to the less advantaged in town. The Good News Garage gives away refurbished cars to those in need of a good set of wheels to get to work. A lot of people give their used cars to the Garage for a tax deduction and the Garage fixes them up before contributing them to the needy.

Mayor Weinberger recently announced a new program to bring preschool disadvantaged children up to speed before they head to Burlington classrooms with private funds. Burlington is the best city in the State to live in if you are disadvantaged.

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