Essex Jct. considering code change to combat housing shortage

Essex Junction is growing fast but, much like other towns in Chittenden county, there is nowhere for people to live.
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 9:29 AM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Essex Junction is growing fast, but like other towns in Chittenden County, there is nowhere for people to live.

U.S. Census data indicates there were almost 1,500 more people living in Essex Junction in 2021 than in 2010. City Council President Andrew Brown said the demand for housing is coming from people looking to live in the community, employers looking for workers, and landlords. “The amount of applicants they’re getting is just quite a burden that they’ve never seen before, which was a perspective that I hadn’t heard previously,” he said.

Council members are in the early stages of reviewing amendments to their Land Development Code and considering allowing duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, and accessory units for rent. “People to develop their home from a single family into a two, three, or four-unit development. That should allow for people to increase the stock of density or increase the housing stock here in our community,” Brown said.

He says existing units would have to fit within certain footprints, like needing a 15,000 square foot plot of land. “Simply because we might be allowing something in theory, in practice. If there isn’t enough land to allow for it, then it can’t happen,” Brown said.

There are some barriers in Vermont that prevent housing from being built or used. Vermont Housing Commissioner Josh Hanford says other than some codes and zoning not being based on development, other barriers include the cost of development and labor. “We need young families, we need workers, but that need for housing has to grow. At the same time is a desire for folks to want to live here. Otherwise, we get what we have now, which is a housing market that’s out of whack. There is not an equilibrium,” he said.

Chittenden County’s vacancy rate is point 4% as of June according to a report by real estate advisory group Allen, Brooks, and Minor. The Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission said a healthy vacancy rate is around 5%. The highest the rate has been in Chittenden County in recent years was 3.3% back in 2016. It has decreased year since then.

The Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission says virtually all 17 towns are engaging in housing development or planning in one way or another. They say 912 homes were built in 2021, a gradual increase from 2019′s 775 homes. But CCRPC’s Charlie Baker says the main focus now is to see if the changes are creating a dent in the problem. “We’ve made some changes. Are we actually seeing the results happen on the ground? If not, we may need to go back and update that zoning again. So, I wish it was like, Yeah, do it and you’re done,” he said

Essex Juction is expected to hold a community outreach meeting about the new changes in October.

From a county-wide perspective, the towns are working with the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission on their campaign to build 5,000 homes in the county in five years,1,250 of which would be affordable housing.