Will incentives in short-term rental rules expand Burlington’s affordable housing?

Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 4:22 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Affordable housing advocates are encouraging Burlington landlords to take advantage of an incentive in the city’s new short-term rental rules aimed at boosting the number of units available for low-income residents.

“Any increase in low-income housing in Burlington is a win for everybody,” said Steven Murray, the executive director of the Burlington Housing Authority. The new short term rental ordinance largely mandates owners must live on the site of their short term rental. However an addendum was made to allow landlords who don’t live on site to operate a short term rental on a property as long as another unit is affordable or Section 8.

“I support the landlords in the fact that it’s their apartment but I also clearly believe that if you are going to take an apartment off of the inventory in Burlington, it is only fair that you do provide a low-income apartment and help the community. This is about helping the community,” Murray said.

Landlord James Grier will lose some short term rentals with this change. However he says it’s a no brainer to take advantage of this program.

He’s rented Section 8 units in the past and says he finds the good in doing so. He also does say, that there can be some issues when tourism is mixed with some people in section 8 units.

“These Airbnb’s or the ones I rent out are usually one or two bedroom units. What I find is sometimes there’s not a good mix either there’s some mental health issues or something like that and can lead to problems in terms of mixing in a tourist element” said Grier.

Some critics have said this would encourage less long-term housing in a city that’s dealing with a major housing crisis. Councilor Ben Traverse, D-Ward 5, who worked on crafting the ordinance says this is geared towards landlords who have too many short term rentals in buildings and giving them an opportunity to keep one, while helping to increase the number of affordable housing units in the city.

“We have a bigger problem at hand. I don’t think the Airbnb regulations or any other affordable units that come with it are going to fully address our housing crisis. There’s a whole lot more we need to be doing as a city in order to fully address that” Traverse said.

Julie Marks, executive director of the Vermont Short Term Rental Alliance, is skeptical, about how many landlords will actually take advantage of the incentive. She’s also frustrated by the additional 9% tax the ordinance added to short-term rentals. “I understand the intention that the city was trying to achieve, with a trade between an affordable unit with a short-term rental on the same property, but I think the scenarios where that would be achievable are very few and far between,” she said.

The Burlington Housing Authority says that since the program is so new, the uptake has been slow, and they are trying to get the word out to landlords.

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City Council approves new rules for short-term rentals in Burlington