Housing pods delayed; charter changes head to mayor’s desk

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 11:16 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger first presented his 10-point housing plan last December. Nearly a year later, the city is checking in on the plan to see how much has been accomplished.

Weinberger told WCAX News on Monday that every single item on the list has been worked on in some capacity. The item that was the biggest talker of Monday night’s City Council meeting was a delay announced in the opening of the homeless pods on Elmwood Ave.

“These buildings are behind the schedule we originally anticipated,” said Sarah Dunn with the Community and Economic Development office. As of now, the pods are set to start housing people in January. She says the biggest setback has been getting the community buildings meant to accompany the pods delivered from Maine. “KBS like all builders and lots of businesses right now continue to face severe supply chain and labor shortages.”

Despite this, Weinberger says the city is on its way to eliminating chronic homelessness by 2025. To date, the city has allocated $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds toward city projects to end homelessness, started construction on 400 affordable homes and created special assistance to end homelessness position to organize efforts. “There’s certainly still a lot of work to do but I’m encouraged,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

According to a memo from Weinberger, there were 70 people sleeping unsheltered during the summer. The vacancy rate for rental units in the city is at an all-time low of 0.5%.

In addition to housing, the council also took up three potential charter changes around elections. Two of them -- regarding noncitizen voting and polling locations. The noncitizen voting charter change would allow legal residents, despite their citizenship status, to vote in local elections. The Vermont Legislature earlier this year overrode vetoes and gave the green light to two similar charter changes in Montpelier and Winooski. The Republican National Committee last month appealed those measures to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Councilors also voted in favor of moving and consolidating voting locations. This comes ahead of a redistricting charter change expected to be in front of the council in a couple of weeks.

Finally, the charter change that narrowly squeaked by, was one that would bring back ranked choice voting for mayoral and school commission races. Some councilors were against this, saying the school commission never got a chance to weigh in.

“This is not just members of the public that haven’t weighed in on this,” said Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South. “This is the school board members themselves that are affected.”

“I just think that we should move forward with our recommendation, then include them in the process and then go about involving them in the process and make sure they have an opportunity to give comment in the public comment period,” said Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1.

Now that the City Council has passed the charter changes, they’ll head to Mayor Weinberger for approval. If he signs off, they’ll be before voters on Town Meeting Day.

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