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Burlington mayor calls housing an 'affordability crisis' - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington mayor calls housing an 'affordability crisis'

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - New numbers show the average Burlington household is forking over more than 40 percent of its income to housing. It's a stat many in the Queen City say is too high. Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, says he has his eye on the problem and is talking about plans to fix it.

Construction is underway at the Silversmith Commons on North Winooski Avenue. The project is home to 22 new apartments and is example of what the Mayor Weinberger says is key to help with what he calls an "affordability crisis."

Living in Burlington can come with some major sticker shock.

"There is five of us total and we pay about $3,200 a month for really small house in the Old North End," said Joseph Tomlinson, a Burlington renter.

Tomlinson says rent often leaves him strapped for cash and that he's not alone.

"We know people who pay much more than that for much smaller apartments," said Tomlinson.

New numbers from Weinberger's Downtown Housing Strategy Report shows the average Burlington household spends 44 percent of its income on housing.

"I think 44 percent is high and I think it is not sustainable for a lot of people," said Kathleen Sweeten from the Northwestern Vermont Board of Realtors.

And it's much higher than places the Queen City is turning for tips like Portland, Oregon, and Nashville, Tennessee, where the percentage hovers in the low 30s.

"We need to identify what we can do to bring that percentage down so people who are and wanting to live in Burlington can feel comfortable with what they are spending on their housing costs," said Sweeten.

"In other parts of the country you have seen a significant increase in the amount of downtown housing, that really has not happened in Burlington," said Weinberger.

Weinberger says making the city more affordable means making housing more available.

His report highlights a number of possible solutions including:

1. Building new units in existing city spaces.

2. Freeing up current units with the creation of additional student housing for college students.

3. Introducing economic incentives for multi-family housing.

4. Considering permitting changes that would make construction easier.

The mayor says it could help drive down costs and provide a boost to area businesses.

"Cumulatively over the whole city that means millions of dollars that's being spent on housing that could be going to other areas of the economy," said Weinberger.

But Weinberger admits it will take more than shovels and blueprints to help ease the pain of high rent and mortgages and says folks who think increasing salaries in our region is also an important factor have a point.

"That comparison of wages to cost of housing is problematic right now," said Weinberger.

The mayor will hold a public hearing June 12th to collect feedback on the report. He hopes to present it to city council and adopt the plan in the fall. 
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