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June 06, 2011

Faith Coalition: UVM Can Deliver a College Degree in Four Years But No Affordable Housing

0010 As if University of Vermont's outgoing president, Dan Fogel, doesn't have enough on his plate to give him indigestion: On Monday night, members of the 11 religious congregations represented by Vermont Interfaith Action will call out the UVM prez for his failure to deliver on a promise made four years ago to build more affordable housing in Burlington.

And rest assured, those VIA members, more than 3000 strong, will be anything but quiet as church mice.

As Seven Days reported back in June 2006, a broad cross-section of Vermonters in Chittenden County, including seniors, the disabled, low- and moderate-income families and people transitioning back to the community from prison, have a very difficult time finding affordable housing in Burlington. And each fall, that problem is only exacerbated by the Queen City's enormous influx of UVM students.

Housing advocates consider a home "affordable" if its residents spend no more than 30 percent of their household income on the rent or mortgage. By that standard, roughly half of all Burlington residents live beyond their housing means.

Four years ago, some 250 members of VIA showed up at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington to call on UVM to take a more proactive and urgent approach to addressing the city's housing crisis, and commit to a speedy timetable for future meetings and new housing projects.

At the time, city and university officials were already well aware of the problem. In 1998, UVM commissioned an economic study which found that students occupied nearly one in five of the city’s 8100 rental units. At the time, about 2566 UVM students were living off campus — or 90 percent of all students in the rental market.

But even four years ago, that data was already out of date. At the time, VIA called on UVM Vice President Tom Gustafson to commit to a new study on the impact of the university on Burlington's rental market, expressing concerned about UVM's stated goal of enrolling 9400 students by 2013. At the time, Gustafson declined to make any such commitment, though he did agree to sit down and talk about the affordable housing issues with VIA members.

But talk is just about all that's happened to date, VIA charges. Since that initial public meeting, and subsequent ones attended by Fogel himself, UVM has broken no ground on new affordable housing units.

So, on Monday night, June 6, VIA and other community members plan to meet at the College Street Congregational Church from 7 to 8:15 p.m. to hear an updated report on the state of affordable housing in Burlington and what has — or more accurately, hasn't — been done to address the problem.

WIll anyone from UVM even show up tonight? Not likely, say university officials. But a June 3 letter to VIA from Richard Cate, UVM's vice president for finance and administration, explains that because the university is in the process of developing its student, faculty and staff housing master plan, it would be "inappropriate to discuss future plans or make future commitments for faculty/staff housing in a large public setting until that process is complete."

In his three-page letter, expected to be read aloud this evening, Cate acknowledges Fogel's 2007 commitment to pursue the construction of more affordable housing but notes: "As you are well aware, the economic climate across the country and for UVM has changed dramatically since 2007. UVM's resources are very limited at this point in time and consistent with our University mission, our priority is to focus on the housing needs of our students."

Cates goes on to report that, according to the Brooks and Allen 2011 Residential Report, colleges and universities in Chittenden County have added 1581 new beds in the last five years and plan to build another 1300 in the near term. Should all those new beds be built, Cates notes, the total number of beds available will increase by 16 percent. More importantly, he adds, the rate of housing development will outpace the growth in student enrollment, easing some of the pressure on an already tight rental market.

Whether Cates' letter, and not his tush in the chair at the front of the church will assuage the VIA's ire, remains to be seen.

"Since that initial public meeting, and subsequent ones attended by Fogel himself, UVM has broken no ground on new affordable housing units."

Well this is grossly misleading. WHile UVM itself may not have broken ground Redstone Group has and is the process of adding several hundred beds.

I mean for crying out loud, if you are going to hold some rally at least get your fact straights. Not too mention, if everyone of UVM's students were to be on campus next year, the value of houses would plummet and you would have a lot of rich folk on the hill pretty pissed off. Moreover, after 500K worth of zoning study, the morons at City Hall can't figure out to let people build UP!! Of course, again that would piss of the rich folk up on the hill when their view got blocked.

UVM blah blah,. Burlington would actually have to allow construction of housing, which is usually impossible for all but the largest and best connected developers. Small landlords can't even replace windows on 100 year old houses, much less tear down and build new.
Build six new apartments in place of the three in the old shack? Goodness no! That shack is historic and coated with ye authentic olde tyme leadded paint!
Burlington tenants are lining up to live in historic squalor and that's primarily the result of the City's own capricious and arbitrary zoning ordinance.

They blame UVM but Champlain continues to skulk under the radar despite the college increasing its student enrollment. One thing I have learned is that UVM is blamed for everything student-related in Burlington because they are the biggest.

Maybe Interfaith should look at this from a higher ed institutional standpoint.

Burlington is a desirable place to live. Period. That is why the rental market is high not just because college students make up a bulk of renters.

Stop tearing at UVM. It insults your intelligence.

Terri, I would rephrase your statement a bit, Burlington is a great place to RENT. Not to live. You get way more out of town, especially after Kiss and Co, want to enact a "special assesment" fee to recoup the 17 million they piddled away on BTC. Otherwise I agree entirely.

Maybe they should all get together and pray that more house will appear.

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