Plan reimagines downtown Rutland with more housing

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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) Rutland City is reimagining its downtown through a strategic plan. And part of it includes creating more housing. Our Olivia Lyons spoke with some creators of the plan, as well as people downtown to find out what are they saying about it.

By using empty existing spaces, those who helped create the plan are confident this will stimulate the city's downtown.

But some people I spoke with around town say they're worried people who currently live in low-income housing will be driven out.

"Always more housing is good. There's always people looking," said Matthew Stoddard of Rutland.

Matthew Stoddard and his son, Artemis, currently live in downtown Rutland. Stoddard says he was raised here and thought about leaving, but has found the city to be great.

"Pretty great place to raise a family," he said. "I think there are still issues with drugs and stuff, but it's kind of everywhere."

The strategic plan is looking to attract young professionals seeking out a more urban lifestyle and people looking to retire or downsize in a convenient area.

Steven Peters, the executive director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership, said one big goal in the plan is increasing housing downtown.

"We hear a lot of times that it's difficult for people to find apartments and they're looking for higher quality apartments, too," Peters said.

In 2012, Rutland City created a Housing Needs Assessment. By collecting surveys from employers, workers and interviewing stakeholders in July 2019, they were able to update the data. It found less than 2% of the city's residents live downtown. According to the data, more than 1,600 people work in downtown Rutland but only about 13 people actually live and work in the area.

Downtown Rutland has many unused spaces. Most of these spots are the second and third floors of established businesses. The plan shows 12% of rentable spaces are vacant. A healthy amount is 5%, showing the current spaces are likely below the standards of people looking to rent.

"By creating the housing, we're making it more appealing. It's definitely a challenge we hear with local employers, just finding housing," Peters said.

People I spoke with think it's a good idea, but also worry that by increasing the high-end apartments, people won't be able to afford them, or those living in the area now will no longer be welcome.

"I think it's a very good idea as long as they take care of the homeless and less fortunate because I have a heart for them," said Lois Griffin of Hampton, New York.

"Oftentimes when an area is revitalized or redeveloped through private development, the affordability factor can be left behind," said James Wilkie of Boston.

Rutland Mayor Dave Allaire says there has been an ongoing conversation regarding low income and homeless in town. One idea is to rehab older homes in town for families to move into.