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February 15, 2011

Barre City Mayor Proposes New Occupancy Standards in Response to Seven Days Story

This afternoon, Barre City Mayor Thom Lauzon told Seven Days that on Tuesday night he intends to present the Barre City Council with new occupancy standards for all rental units in the city, and credits Seven Days for bringing the matter to his attention.

Lauzon said he first became aware of Barre City's lack of a maximum-occupancy limit for rental properties after reading a February 2 article in Seven Days about four Peruvian workers forced to live in an overcrowded house in Barre for the last three months.

The four Peruvians, all university students from Lima on summer break, expressed bitterness, disappointment and anger at the way they’ve been treated in Vermont. Each said she paid more than $3000 for the opportunity to visit the United States under the federal J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, which allows foreign students to work here for as long as four months.

The women, who range in age from 18 to 23, were among 11 foreign workers hired by Fuad Ndibalema, owner of Somosaman Café in Montpelier, and housed in a five-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Barre City. Though men and women shared the house, there were no doors on the bedrooms, and the bathroom didn’t have a lock.


Several of the Peruvians claimed they had to share mattresses on the floor with strangers. One woman claimed that three women were assigned to share one mattress. All four Peruvians have since left the state.

Lauzon said he decided to propose the ordinance, which he modeled after the city of Burlington's, after reading in Seven Days that a Barre fire inspector had visited the house in December in response to a resident's a complaint about overcrowding, but couldn't issue a citation because Barre City has no maximum-occupancy standards for homes like this one.

Barre City has been looking to update its housing ordinances for some time, Lauzon added, but he saw this as an easily correctible situation that could prevent future such abuses.

"It's certainly not our intent to discourage big families from living in Barre City," Lauzon said. "But I have an 18-year-old daughter, and I wouldn't want her living in those conditions... We can do better, and we should."


@ Ken:
Have you asked anybody at the State for comment on why they apparently have not enforced their laws as listed on their spiffy website?
Barre is doing a good thing but my guess is that future exploited immigrant holding pens will simply move across town lines.

A. Purpose. The purpose of this code is to protect the health, safety and well-being of the occupants of rental housing. This code establishes minimum health and habitability standards that all residential rental housing in Vermont must conform to.
B. Authority. This code is adopted under the authority of 18 VSA § 102, 3 VSA § 3003(a) and 3 VSA § 801(b)(11).
C. Scope.
1. This Rental Housing Health Code shall apply to all rented dwellings, dwelling units, rooming houses, rooming units and mobile home lots used as a regular residence.
2. This code does not apply to transient occupancy in a hotel, motel or other lodging licensed by the Department of Health during the time the occupancy is subject to a tax levied under 32 V.S.A. Chapter 225.

I haven't, Tim, but thanks for the heads up. I suspect they'll throw it back into the hands of the municipality, since the state doesn't do much in the way of housing inspection, as I've discovered in previous stories.

"It's good to be the King".

@Ken: In case you were not already aware of it, someone informed me recently how to their knowledge the Somosaman Café has been closed for about the last two weeks and there has been no sign in the window about it being closed either.

Had gone by and checked for myself a few times since then and can confirm this to be true.

It seems odd, since even if an owner were to close for vacation or some other reason temporarily, one would expect some sort of notice posted so regular or potential customers would know when to expect the business to be reopened.

Otherwise I have not heard anything much new or different than what you have last reported, save for rumors of the owner being in trouble and those might be based on the coverage you have provided.

By the way, have you come across this opinion piece from the Vermont Cynic on the subject yet, here?

Thanks, Morgan. I hadn't seen the VT Cynic piece. But I have been in Montpelier a few times recently and noticed a change in the business. I appreciate the heads up.

Am not sure when it got posted, however, ironically enough, after the store had been closed for a couple of weeks or so, there is now a hand written sign posted on the inside of the Somosaman Café glass door indicating the store will be reopened on March 16, 2011, which is tomorrow (Wednesday).

Despite the sign in the window, the store did not open today.

It appears the Vermont Department of Labor has closed the Somosaman Cafe in downtown Montpelier due to failure to secure employment compensation insurance for their employees, here (via Montpelier Matters).

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