Monday, October 17, 2016

Sinex Mall Proposal--No Housing or Benefit to the Very Low Income

There is not a single unit of Sinex 54 "affordable" units for the "poor and disenfranchised" as he Mayor Weinberger has sometimes referred within the Sinex Mall proposal.  All 54 Sinex units are moderate income with rent caps of $1,000 monthly for a one-bedroom and $1,200 for a two bedroom.

Burlington now has about one in three non-student households living in “affordable units”--Burlington Housing Authority with most of the “deep subsidy” affordable units which reach down to $0 income and the bulk of affordables, non-profit rentals with “shallow subsidy” primarily by Champlain Hosing Trust and Cathedral.  Added to these are the “inclusionary zoning housing” like that proposed in the Sinex project. They represent at most today about 8% of all affordable units and Sinex units (some would likely be built with or with the Mall as proposed) about, potentially, just 2 percent of the affordable units in the City—again those Sinex would be shallow subsidy for moderate income residents. Actually the percentage of affordable units in Burlington is very remarkable, about 2,500 units.  This total is reached when you include Burlington Colege (Erik Farrell's Cambrian Rise, 675 units) project and Ireland's 220 units on Grove Street now renting, Bayberry Commons.

We all support a responsible mixed Mall redevelopment--so some affordable units surely will be developed on the Mall property. This analysis does not include inclusionary from the 62 Bove project units now moving forward on Pearl Street.

In terms of sheer numbers of housing units being added in Burlington the Sinex overall project of 274 unit remains a small part of the expansion of housing begun in 2013 with over half the 2,000 expansion of rental housing—equal to 20% of the 10,000 rental units in Burlington in the 2010 census—more than enough to effect a dampening impact on market rents. Already the vacancy rate has moved toward healthy status and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable futgure as over half the 2,000 units under development are in place today. Student population is in a downward trend and both UVM and Champlain College are adding substantial numbers of beds in housing coming online within 24 months.

Vacancy in Burlington now reaches about 3 percent in the healthy range with more than 226 rental vacancies found in an October “snapshot” rental survey. There is no basis for claiming in any way shape or manner the Sinex project addresses any housing problem in Burlington at all and mostly--over 200 units--provides $1,600 to $2,000 monthly rentals on up (Sinex said at a New North End meeting he is not sure the units will be rentals or condos).  Talk to any small landlord they will tell you how loose the market is and how it is taking longer and longer to rent their units. 


Two major types of housing are needed: (1) more senior housing (0 in Sinex); and (2) very low income vouchers for both families and seniors (again, none in the Sinex project).  This was the message from U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Castro and the speakers when he visited and opened Bright Street.  You will hear from COVE which advocates for seniors and low income housing proponents seeking support for a 1% (about $2 a night) lodging charge to support a very low income housing program by the State reaching upwards of 1,000 low income families and households. 

Stop listening to the misleading material form the City administration

And please join CLC in supporting a "better" Town Center, a responsible City development approach and reject the massive Sinex complex. 

"Snapshot Survey" of Available Burlington Rentals October 2016

October 2016

Snapshot of Burlington Rental Vacancies Reflects Healthy Condition and Plentiful Rental Availabilities, Surprising Trends

--Burlington rental vacancy rate very likely in “healthy” range
--226 rentals listed (equals 2.3% of 2010 total rental units)
--one rental offered with first month “free”
--about 250 vacant student “beds” in 4-6 bedroom rentals

An early October “snapshot” of Burlngton available rental vacancies reveals a plentiful availability of one bedroom and larger rentals and a likely vacancy rate within the “healthy” 3 to 5% range.

A check on selected websites identified 226 available to rent. The 226 along represent 2.3% vacancy based on the 2010 Census of almost 10,000 rental housing units in the City. The 2.3% is only an indicator, not reflective of the actual, higher, rate. For example, for Bissonette Properties which has a considerable number of rentals only three were tabulated (one each for three bedroom categories) and for the S. D. Ireland Grove Street project which is open and continually finishing sections of its 220 unit project, just a single one bedroom and two bedroom were included in the tabulations. Not all websites with listings were tabulated, though most of the popular ones, such as Craig's List and are included. One would expect the Burlington rental market well into the lower end of the 3-5% vacancy rate, considered “healthy” by housing analysts.

The Burlington housing market which neared a vacancy rate of as little as one percent in the 2011-2013 period clearly began to loosen considerably in 2015, according to local landlords who in some cases saw calls from prospective renters from one or more calls daily dropping to one a week or so. The most recent two private semi-annual Chittenden County vacancy surveys found an average of 2.5% vacancy through early this year and predicted the rate would climb over 3.0% later in 2016. This snapshot survey adds some evidence supporting that prediction.

Table 1 outlines the tabulation from observations October 7 of rental availabilities by bedroom size with price ranges and median provided. Table 2 provides similar data from the July survey. The October survey takes place after the annual student migration back to college at UVM and Champlain College which together have 15,000 enrolled.

Median Rents

The most significant rental number, the median rent for a one-bedroom, remained constant at $1,050 for both surveys almost the exact number of available units (37 in October, 38 in July). The two-bedroom median rent did increase 11% from $1,350 in July to $1,500 in October—but 70 units were tabulated in October versus only 43 in July so one would expect several units were available in October at the July median number.

Table 1: Burlngton Vacant Available Rentals October 2016: by Bedroom Size— Total Rentals, Price Range, and Median Rent

226 Apartments 10/07/2016

Summary              Total                          $ Range                           $ Median

0 BR                      1                              800                                      800
1 BR                      37                            750-1,500                         1,050

2 BR                      70                             850-2,250                         1,500

3 BR                      62                           1,050-2,250                        2,160

4 BR+                    56                            1,000-5,000                       3,300

Table 2: Burlngton Vacant Available Rentals July 2016: by Bedroom Size— Total Rentals, Price Range, and Median Rent

129 Apartments

Summary              Total                          $ Range                           $ Median

0 BR                     14                              700-1,400                            968
1 BR                      38                             700-1,900                         1,050

2 BR                      43                             950-2,600                         1,350

3 BR                      26                             799-2,595                         1,825

4 BR+                      8                             875-2,900                         2,400

The three-bedroom and four+-bedroom increased medians really are not comparable to July as 108 were tabulated in October versus 34 in July. Further, a large number of rentals were single family homes which likely skewed upward the median rents on both bedroom groups.

Overall Trends

The surveys here take place in a period of dynamic change in the Burlington rental housing market which totaled 9,800 total rental units (occupied and vacant available) in the 2010 Census. Starting in 2013 after rental units added averaging mid-double digits a year, through this summer a total of over 2,000 rentals were added or in late process of development—almost 700 per year. Over half the units are built or under construction with the S. D. Ireland Bayberry on Grove Street, 220 units, the largest with some completed and occupied and others coming on line regularly. The largest project, Cambrian Rise, 675 units at former Diocesan lands sold by Burlington College, is late in the development process. These 2,000 rental units moving through development along represent a 20% increase in the rental inventory as of 2010.

“Dormitory Housing” Trend

A very surprising finding in the October survey is the number 56 rentals of 4-6 bedrooms totaling about 250 beds—the type of housing based on the units tabulated rented primarily to the college student population. It is fair to say much of these larger rentals are “dormitory” housing rented by college students. The UVM student population peaked in 2010 and Champlain College expects its resident student body of about 2,200 to remain constant while growing its online programming. Given the current vacancies, it is well known the major new dormitory building on the UVM campus set to be occupied next fall will also house about 300 students now housed mostly in Burlington rentals. This likely means another 70-90 rental vacancies will occur by mid-2017 from this change alone.

Student Population Choosing Smaller Rentals?

Another trend—yet to be tested fully—may be students taking advantage of a larger housing supply to reside in 2 or 3 bedroom units rather than 4-6 bedroom arrangements. It is obviously easier and more satisfying for students to make arrangements for a smaller “home share” situation as well as less competition for common areas (kitchens, living rooms, etc.). And pricing increase per bedroom from 2, to 3, to 4 and over bedroom units is about $300 to $400 per bedroom. Until the last year or so the availability of any sized apartment was constrained. Now there appears to be a considerable available vacant units except in the efficiency category.


Burlington with its housing production expansion since 2013 with over 2,000 rentals built, being built or well into the development process has well exceeded its share of a Regional Housing Initiative aimed adding 3,500 housing units in a five year period. And, Burlington is remarkable in providing “affordable” rental housing (affordable including both Public Housing, Section 8 vouchers, and non-profit housing by Champlain Housing Trust and Cathedral). The 2,500 affordable existing or contained in the 2,000 housing units referenced above insure that about 30% of non-student rental households in Burlington reside in “affordable” homes.

The demographics of Chittenden County for 2010-2030 show in population projections a slight decline In those aged under 65 years and a doubling of those aged over 65—senior population growing from 17,400 in 2010 to 36,500 in 2030. This is an increase of almost 900 seniors yearly.

The prime housing needs for Burlington? First and foremost, age restricted housing for the growing senior population. Second, the need is for very low income housing assistance for s somewhat stable non-senior family population and for seniors. The Sinex Mall provides no senior housing and no deep subsidy units benefiting the very low income.

Burlington Town Center

This analysis excludes likely additional housing in a Burlngton Town Center development. The Coalition for a Livable City campaign for a “Better Town Center” advocates for a project within current zoning but with increased proportions of affordable housing units, probably very near the Sinex proposal of 54 units. Overall, total housing units might be reduced to perhaps 150. Clearly there is no need for student housing in newly developed housing in the downtown or elsewhere in the City at this time as both UVM and Champlain College continue to make strides to sharply reduce their dependance on the City housing to supply the needs of their students.

Market for Market Rate Housing?

Clearly the Burlington housing market has changed radically in the past two years. There are questions. In certain housing categories—larger bedroom sizes, for example—the City may be facing a housing glut. Certainly the top one percent will always be served by the “market”--has been (see Lake Street, Westlake, etc., developments). At this point, just adding more units of housing with a plentiful supply (and already set to grow further) of market housing becomes a low priority. And, placing ongoing efforts at more non-profit housing (in all its many varieties) and finding new State and local sources to provide deep subsidies for low income households becomes the major priority for all age groups.

Tony Redington

Burlington "Inclusionary Zoning" Affordable Housing--A Preliminary Analysis


Here are three arbitrarily selected examples of households and maximum rents (rent cap) which would be offered by a landlord for an inclusionary unit of housing. There is cap on how low the rent can be set, and presumably landlords would be somewhat flexible in terms of moving rents lower than the cap rental rate towards the objective of no more than 30% of income by a household for rent (including all utilities). The three households are: (1) a two person household near the income maximum who would pay less than 30% of income under the rent cap, actually 25%; (2) a single individual making $15 an hour who would pay almost 40% of income; and (3) a single parent or couple with one child who occupying a 2 bedroom apartment and in this case paying at the rent cap 37% of income for housing.

Maximum Incomes to Qualify for “Affordable” Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) Units

1 Person: $58,800 2 Person $67,200 3 Person $75,600 4 Person $84,000 ….8 Person $110,900

Three different households

(1) Couple with income $50,000 (needs 1 bedroom apartment)
(2) Single person with $31,200 income ($15 an hour) (applies to studio or 1 bedroom apartment)
(3) Single parent or couple with one child $40,000 income (needs 2 bedroom apartment)

Eligible in terms of household income at 100% Burlington median income or less?
(1) Yes ; (2) Yes; (3) Yes

Cap on rent (rent maximum)

For 1 bedroom

Rent cap is 65% of median rent for household size, then multiplied by 0.3 (30% of income to gross rent including all utilities). In this case rent cap calculated, 1.5 persons assumed with 65% set at: 0.65 x [(1 person median income $58,800 plus 2 person median income of $67,200 divided by 2) x (30% or 0.3) or (58,800+67200/2) x 0.3 ] or 0.65 x $63,000 x 0.3 or $12,285 rent maximum yearly ($1,024 monthly). This 1 bedroom rent cap applies to examples (1) and (2)

For 2 bedroom, this analysis assumes 3 persons ($75,600 income) with calculation of rent cap: (Income estimate using 3 person income x 0.65 times 0.3) or ($75,000 x 0.65 x 0.3) or $14,625 yearly or $1,229 monthly. The 2 bedroom rent cap applies in case 

Percent of income paid for rental at rent cap
  1. Couple with $50,000 income $1,024 a month rent 24.6% of income
  2. Single person with $31,200 income
($15 an hour wage) $1,024 monthly rent 39.4% of income.
(3) Single parent or couple with one child
$40,000 income, $1,219 a month rent 36.9% of income

Burlington Housing Analysis--August 2016


August 2016


The current and past data and estimates here outline Burlington the current rental housing market, the rapid market growth and change which began in 2013 and continues today, trends and needs mostly related to deep subsidy housing for families and seniors. Among findings and estimates here:
  1. About one-in-four non-student households in Burlington reside today in “affordable housing”
  2. An expansion of the rental housing inventory continuing since mid-2013 adds an additional 2,000+ predominantly rental units, equal to over 20% of total rental units in the 2010 Census of 9,800
  3. The “inclusionary zoning” (IZ) inventory today of affordable housing units, 82, amounts to about 3% of the current inventory of over 2,000 “affordable” housing units in the City (with the addition of the Farrell Cambrian Rise housing at the former Burlngton College land Burlington with its 168 IZ units, the total of affordable housing units in Burlington nears 2,500)
  4. Except Burlington, there are no “inclusionary zoning” (IZ) affordable units in Chittenden County
  5. Two major needs in the housing market remain, both requiring deep subsidy assistance: (a) seniors who can in most cases no longer afford their existing housing and (b) support for very low income, non-senior individuals and families including the homeless and persons with a disability
  6. Average rental vacancy rate over the past year (2 private surveys) reveals a vacancy figure of 2.5% with prediction of a rate within the “healthy range” of 3-5% by year end
  7. Market rate rents for new apartments would likely exceed $1,400 for 1-bedroom and$1,600 for a 2-bedroom unit  [Note offering rents at new Bayberry Commons, October 2016: 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom $2,150--Sinex project market rents likely higher]. 

The last two semi-annual vacancy rate surveys found a 2.5% vacancy rate for Chittenden County predicted to be in the “healthy” 3-5% range by year end. A “snapshot” survey of Burlington rental vacancies in July found 129 available apartments, a 1.3% vacancy rate in a survey that is an indicator not a vacancy metric. Burlington landlords first identified a drop in demand as housing supply increased last year and they say the drop in demand has continued since. [October  2016 "snapshot survey" found 225 rentals available.]

With the majority of an estimated over 2,000 mostly rental housing unit growth since mid-2013 built, under construction or near construction start (about half built or under construction) the 9,800 rental units in the 2010 Census clearly expands by about 20% within the next year or so. Providing a sufficient supply of housing in Burlington clearly can be described as a rousing success.

After adjusting for college students in private rentals—1,500 apartments total estimate—a fair estimate: one in four Burlington non-student rental households now reside in the “affordable housing” an inventory nearing 2,500 built, under construction or well into the permittingBurlingt process. Up to the Burlington College Farrell Cambrian Rise project, “inclusionary zoning” moderate income housing amounted to single digits percentage of affordable housing—about 3% today and with Cambrian Rise increasing to about 10% of the total “affordable” units in the City.

This analysis and data below includes no market or affordable units from a Town Center Mall redevelopment.

  1. U.S. Census 2010


A housing unit is a house, an apartment, a mobile home or trailer, a group of rooms, or a single room occupied as a separate living quarters...”

Owner Occupied Housing Units 6,553 Vacancy Rate 1.2% Renter Occupied Housing Units 9,556 Vacancy Rate 2.5%

Family households (2 or more persons related by blood or marriage) 6,561
Non-family households 9,558 (single persons or 2-or-more unrelated individuals)

Total vacant units 778—2.0 Overall vacancy rate Seasonal/held for occasional use housing units 250

  1. Burlington Affordable Housing Units in Discrete Projects

--generally excludes inclusionary zoning (IZ) units
--data from CEDO (Burlington Community Economic and Development Office) through City Fiscal Year 2015 ending June 30, 2015
--units include moderate income affordable and units affordable to very low to no income
--three primary owners: Burlington Housing Authority (BHA), Cathedral Housing, and Champlain Housing Trust (CHT)

a. Special Needs Housing in projects less than 20 units:
b. Senior
c. General

BHA 134

Other 983

  1. Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) Housing Units

--affordable down to at about 80% of median income
--80% median income Burlington Metro 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 1 person 46,000
    1. person 52,600
    2. person 59,150
  1. Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) Housing Units (concluded)

Chittenden County other than Burlington

0 IZ Units

Burlington Through Early July 2016

--14 projects 2010-2016 (CEDO data)
--total units 82: rental 74 and owner 8
--privately administered 63; nonprofit/private-nonprofit partner administered 19
--rental total units (affordable and market) in 12 projects 464
--32 units to 2010-2012; 50 units 2013-to July 2016 Affordable Non-profit IZ units

Rental IZ units 74

Total IZ units 82

  1. Housing Units in Burlington built, under development, well along in approval 2013 to date

--CEDO reported units July 1, 2013 through July 7, 2016: 1,301 housing units
--Farrell Burlington College, Cambrian Rise 675 units (168 IZ)
--Bright Street Coop (CHT) 40 units (all affordable)
Total Burlington Housing Units (vast majority rental): built, under construction or well into permit process 2,016

  1. Section 8 Vouchers Administered by Burlington Housing Authority

--about 568 vouchers where household can choose to live with a considerable proportion in units already in the “affordable inventory.” For purposes of analysis those with BHA housing vouchers choosing to live in private market apartments will be assumed to total 100.

6. Proportion of Burlington Rental Inventory Occupied by Students

There are about 15,000 students now at the two remaining colleges in Burlington, UVM and Champlain College. Student population at UVM peaked in 2010 at just over 13,000, then declined about 700 students as of the past school year. Currently a major dormitory construction project at UVM to be completed for 2017-2018 school year will absorb students temporarily housed in a hotel and other facilities as well as drawing about 300 students from housing in Burlington, freeing up about 100 private market units in Burlington.

For purposes of analysis, 1,500 units of the Burlington rental inventory will be assumed to be occupied by students, a constantly rotating population over about a two-to-three year period. Eagles Landing, a Champlain College student housing project technically in construction will likely also draw some student from the private rental market.

    7. The total “affordable housing” units in Burlington

The definition of “affordable housing” really is two fold: (1) mostly non-profit and inclusionary zoning units which reach to about the 80% of median household income (“moderate income” units) and (2) “full subsidy” assistance whereby the household pays a maximum of 30% of income, as little as $0 monthly for a household with no income. The federal programs of traditional “Public Housing” and Section 8 are the most prevalent type of full subsidy units. At the Burlington Housing Authority (BHA) there are long waiting lists. A household not in certain priority categories can wait several years before receiving a deep rental subsidy apartment. For Section 8 “voucher” units where a household is free to find any apartment in the area which is priced at the median rent or lower (rent schedules for every housing market [“fair market rent”] are determined and updated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)). For example, the current median “fair market rent” for a Burlington area 2-bedroom apartment is $1,356.00 monthly.

The median household income in Vermont was about $55,000 in 2014, about 7% or $4,000 drop from 2004. The federal maximum income for moderate income eligibility for a two- person household is $52,600—that figure also indicates the income which an inclusionary zoning unit must serve with 30% of income allocated to rent.

The total number of “affordable housing units” in Burlington is comprised of four components:
(1) the 2,071 identified in the CEDO “affordable inventory” outlined above in discrete project through June 30, 2014; (2) an estimated 100 Section 8 vouchers with households who have chosen to live in private rental market units in the City; (3) inclusionary zoning (IZ) units totaling 82 tabulated by CEDO; and (4) the estimated 208 affordable units contained in the Bright Street Coop and Burlington College Cambrian Rise project (40 at Bright Street and 168 IZ units at Burlington College Cambrian Rise—not yet entered into the CEDO tabulation).

These four categories of “affordable housing” total 2,461.

    8. Burlington Housing Needs There remain two intractable housing needs today in Burlington. First, for seniors whose population is doubling from 2010-2030 the quantitative need is obvious versus the slight decline in the County in the same period for the under-65 population. The waiting list at Cathedral Housing—500 at this time—though driven mostly by affordability issues for seniors also reflects other strands of need—social isolation, transportation dependence, and growing needs for supplemental services in a continuum which ranges from independent living to assisted living to other more extensive support services. Generally those with disabilities—who are by law eligible for senior housing assistance—also are growing in numbers with many of the same issues of seniors. Second, for non-seniors Vermont the nation during the Great Recession saw at least numbers if not percentages of low income households and child poverty remain with affordable housing first and foremost the needs. Increasingly the homeless numbers have include families with children. While housing subsidies for the middle class have grown since 2000, the federal housing support (now four times higher for the middle class than for low income) has remained relatively unchanged. Both the federal government and Vermont State government must begin to address the deep housing housing unit assistant needs which totally lie outside the categories of IZ units and moderate income non-profit development. Burlington through the leadership of Mayor Weinberger and the City Council has in a few short years addressed to a large extent necessary increases in the number of housing units to erase scarcity and addressed to an important extent moderate income housing—but deep housing assistance in the affordable category remain elusive and a State and federal challenge which City and County leadership must join to change. Finally, the University of Vermont and Champlain College, though perhaps tardy, moved to reduce their contribution to low vacancy rates and the pressure of lack of on-campus housing on the Burlington and regional housing markets.
The demographic downturn statewide and larger Northeast Region suggests continued relief to the City and County housing market in this regard.

Final Note: Because of the ending of significant federal housing assistance programs at the turn of the century the absolute need for “housing first” for many purposes—some examples: release from the correctional system, minimizing hospital stays, transitional housing for persons with mental and physical handicap, homeless families, victims of spousal abuse, etc.--has led to human service institutions creating a multi-faceted system to support housing subsidy using non-housing program sources. This area highlights the lack of provision of needed housing resources in past history—the federal government and now increasingly State programs of housing. An excellent outline of housing problems, programs and needs can be found in the report this year released by the Governors' Committee on Pathways Out of Poverty which can be accessed online.

Tony Redington


Colorado Group Against Highway Safety?

While checking google alerts on press roundabout construction activity one finds some where one cannot stop oneself from commenting.  It is particularly poignant living in Chittenden County and Burlington with numberless busy streets which are unsafe for all modes. 

Drive underway to stop Redlands [CO] roundabout

The United States once #1 in highway safety collapsed to #19 recently and we record 12,000 excess deaths (of over 30,000 fatalities a year)--19th was before the highest jump, 7%, in U.S. highway fatalities last year, the greatest increase recorded in a half century. Pedestrians and bicycle fatalities increased at a greater rate last year and for several years before compared to vehicle occupant deaths. The roundabout, the safety belt of intersections cuts serious and fatal injuries about 90%--the U.S. lags most nations in adopting modern roundabout technology (built with stone age materials). Finally, this year the Obama administration took action--it requires States and metropolitan agencies (MPOs) to record current car occupant fatalities/serious injuries and separately the rate for walk bike rates per mile of travel. The state highway agencies and MPOs then must set a target for reducing serious/fatal injury rates and then measure their results--this is a must to continue to receive federal highway dollars. Sweden, #1 i highway safety, has more roundabouts now than traffic signals and moves to reduce their traffic signal numbers another 40%. You can imagine my view of a petition to stop a roundabout being installed for increased safety.

Tony Redington @TonyRVT08  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Burlington Mall Pursuit of Apple Likely Fruitless

Apple Too High in the Tree for Sinex Mall to Reach (even at 14 stories!)

Burlington Town Center's (BTC's) owner Don Sinex from the start dangled a new Mall re-development with all kinds of baubles and bangles from housing and parks to a hotel and conference center. One of those baubles offered for Burlington residents supposed retail
“need” as old time malls and box stores wither on the vine: our very own Apple Store (now just “Apple” with new branding). No one has heard anything more other than Sinex saying the Cupertino, CA icompany has some interest. Probably one local Vermont business has more than a passing curiosity—Small Dog Electronics whose stores in Waitsfield and So. Burlington serve all the fanboys and girls in northwestern and central Vermont—the others must go to Montreal, or the stores in southern New Hampshire and Albany.

An Apple in Burlington? Well, good luck Charley Brown!   What a carnival barker Sinex seems to be! Check out our sister northern New England states of Maine and New Hampshire with twice our populations and where Apple does have just four—count them four Apples. Maine has one store at Maine Mall, So. Portland, in Cumberland County with a population of 100,000 more than Chittenden's 136,000, And nearby within a half hour drive are three 100,000 plus counties--Androscoggin, Kennebec and York [over 200,000]. The two counties north and south of Burlington—Franklin and Addison average 40,000 population. To the west, well there are those pesky mountains and Small Dog with it Waitsfield shop.

Our closest Apple to Burlington is in Montreal, 100 miles away. But we have a full service Apple in Small Dog in So. Burlington. Small Dog there is perfectly located a five minute free bus ride away from its primary local customer base—the 15,000 or so students and staff at UVM.

Speaking of New Hampshire with its no sales tax on Apple trinkets and Watches, there are two border stores at Pheasant Lane in Nashua and Rockingham Mall in Salem. The third Apple resides in Manchester in Hillsborough County which has a population two-thirds of Vermont's--over 400,000. And Manchester is a few miles from the Merrimack County line (includes Concord) with 146,000 population.

So the idea that Apple will put Small Dog out of business with a store in the Burlington just does not compute.  How about them apples Mr. Sinex? If Sinex wanted to help small business it might pursue a small puppy from Small Dog, not an urban Apple, a fruit too far. Sushi on a conveyor belt anyone? That new store touted by Sinex added at the BTC entrance lasted just twelve months.

How about them Apples!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

More Height as Midget Buildings Unprofitable and Puny for Downtown--More Height = More Developer Profit

Burlington advocates for a 14-story Mall redevelopment just believe that 7, 8 or 9 floor buildings can provide enough space for offices, apartments and shopping.  They know that the puny sized Marriott/Westlake/Hilton Hotel trio of midget buildings are poorly sized and should have been built half again the current size.  Take a look:

This give a sense of height and massive scale when gong from the current downtown height limit of about six floor--like the 7 floor Hilton--and up to 9-10 floors when public benefits are provided--the size of Westlake and Marriott and then going four floors more which is outside current zoning--the 65 foot height took two years of process within the Planning Commission and City Council as business interests sought higher and higher limits and the community said no  Now businessman Sinex brings the same old saw, more height--which really translates into "more profits for me.":

Friday, July 15, 2016

Abundance of Vacant Burlngton Apartments--A Snapshot Survey

Ample Rental Housing Availability in Burlington Today

...rental vacancy rate possible upward rise to “glut” status?

With a first hand experience of searching for an apartment just five years ago in Burlington when there were practically none, a snapshot of available apartments today—129 tabulated—shows a surprising number of apartments in most neighborhoods which confirms two recent studies showing a 2.5% vacancy rate moving to a “healthy” 3-5% vacancy range for Burlington and Chittenden County.

There is a myth about a current housing crisis because of no housing available to rent--we just need to build more units and that will alleviate half the crisis (the other half being households being able to afford rentals). Well, the lack of housing units available is just that, a myth, and the 1,400 units built, under construction and well into the permitting process 2014 to date in Burlington alone suggests there more likely exists an increasingly healthy vacancy rate and a possible oncoming housing glut. A a return to the drought of years past—just ask landlords and they express concerns over lack of rental demand in this market when they know projects are rapidly coming on line. Even with the current level of vacancy rental costs very likely will not rise and in fact decline modestly in the coming months.

A survey of apartments for rent through newspaper and online sites like Craigslist is a quick and easy way to gauge housing availability and median prices in a small housing market like that of Burlington. The last census counted about 10,000 rental units and the 129 units tabulated here represent 1.3% of the 2010 inventory. Here are the results as found without adjusting for costs of utilities (most do not include electric or heat). The July 11-12 survey is not exhaustive but the numbers do reflect what a person seeking a rental would likely find at this time.

Survey of 129 Apartments for Rent Listings Online July 11-12, 2016

Bedroom Size Number Price Range Median (Middle) Price

0 (studio) 14 $700-$1,400 $968

1 38 $700-$1,900 $1,050

2 43 $700-$2,600 $1,050

3 26 $799-$2595 $1,825

4 or more 8 $875-$2,900 $2,400

Note Bright Street Coop and 237 Pearl Street were clearly in process of renting up their respective projects.

Clearly the 129 units are an “indicator” as apartment brokers generally have many units that are not placed onto online availability. The two most recent authoritative private surveys over the past year revealed about a 2.5% average vacancy rate for Burlngton and the Chittenden County with an upward trend.

Housing Affordability and the $15 Minimum Wage

The impact of minimum wage changes on apartment affordability are quite dramatic. A minimum wage worker income ($9.20 minimum wage in Vermont today) is approximately $20,000 a year, so a median rent efficiency (studio) apartment would consume about 60% of income. For a couple earning minimum wage, a one bedroom median rent apartment would consume about 32% of total income. With a minimum wage of $15 the percentages drop to 37% for a single person renting a median priced studio apartment devoted to rent working at minimum wage, and 20% for two minimum wage workers for a median priced one-bedroom rental.

There are other important factors favoring an increased vacancy rate and some rent reductions from resultant market forces. These include not only additions to the rental inventory—about 900 units from the Ireland Grove Street and Cambrian Rise (Burlington College lane project) but also from the drop of as many as 1,000 students in rental housing since the peak year of 2010, and a slight decline in under 65-age population for the current 2010-2030 projection period for the County as a whole.

Two major housing needs? First, deep subsidy rental “voucher” type assistance which enables renter choice—the federal government has cut these by about 1,000 units since 2000. Perhaps the State and even the City might move to fill this gap. Second, there remains and will continue a major need for senior housing and a continuum of senior housing ranging from apartments, assisted housing, group homes and finally nursing homes of various care levels.

Apartments available websites

Here are three popular websites to find rental housing in Burlington and Chittenden County:
Burlington housing market rental websites:


Bissonnette Properties:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Difficult Shelburne Street Roundabout Project Moves Along--2020 "Likely" Install Year

BURLINGTON, VT—June 30, 2016 The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) project manager calls the Shelburne Street roundabout project the most difficult in his 17 year career because of the “spaghetti” of utilities underground.

Engineer Michael LaCroix, P.E. gave a “very likely“ roundabout installation for 2020 at the high accident list intersection where two pedestrian injuries were recorded during 2011-2014. when it rated within the 17 highest pedestrian crash locations in Burlington. LaCroix said he checked the crash performance of the three Route 15 Lamoille County roundabouts (Cambridge, Hyde Park, and Morrissville) and found a 50% reduction in crashes. He pointed out that because of the lower speeds at a roundabout that crashes which do occur are less severe on average than those at signs or signals. The project construction takes two years with the “hoped for” start in 2019 devoted to the utilities work and 2020 the actual construction of the roundabout.

About 20 residents and Department of Public Works (DPW) staff attend the June 29 meeting where LaCroix agreed to periodic updates at the request of City Councilor Karen Paul who explained that the project which goes back to 2008 has been very difficult to get information about since. In the most recent AOT report the intersection recorded 50 crashes over five years.

LaCroix said once the utilities plans are worked out with each utility expected over the next months the regular steps of acquisition of right-of-way occurs in 2017 and 2018 along with final design elements take place.  LaCroix stressed the project is a collaborative one with DPW where Laura Wheelock is project manager.  LaCroix's unit is doing the design work. He said the project is an “absolute” priority and continues as first or second among the dozen projects assigned to his unit.  LaCroix who meets with DPW every three months saw no reason that updates on project status can be done regularly. 

Travel time may be somewhat longer for those traveling St. Paul/Shelburne Streets but less for those entering from the other three streets, Locust, Ledge and South Willard.

About half the cost of the $2-$4 million project involves underground utilities work. Utilities include water, electric, at least two cable lines, and Vermont Gas—all with various connections and locations at the intersection involving five streets. Added to this work are what might be termed pockets to take storm water runoff and treat if before joining a pipe which directly enters Lake Champlain.

The 130 foot diameter roundabout will have on/off ramps for bicyclists on each approach/exit to shared space with pedestrians so a cyclist has the “choice” of taking the circular travel lane or switching to pedestrian mode to move through the crossings then ramping down onto to the street level again.

Tony Redington, a member of the Technical Committee on the Walk Bike Master Plan noted the two pedestrian crashes in four years at the intersection and compared that to one crash in 50 years recorded at five downtown Vermont roundabouts. “One would expect only about a pedestrian crash once a decade with a roundabout,” said Redington, also a roundabout expert and representative of Safe Streets Burlington. He asked everyone to be careful walking at a roundabout as with about 5,000 in place in the United States and Canada not a single pedestrian fatality has been recorded to date.

There are 12 public main streets and roads roundabouts in Vermont dating from the first in 1995 but none in Chittenden County.  The U.S. roundabout 2001 key safety study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found a decrease of about 90% in serious and fatal injury rates after conversion to roundabouts.  AARP advocates conversion of signals to roundabouts because of the higher rate of senior drivers fatalities at intersections compared to non-senior drivers. The average "busy" signalized intersection converted to a roundabout reduces pollutants, gasoline consumption and global warming gases generated at the intersection traffic by about 30%.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Response to Dan Jones on Revitalization of VT

Dan Jones in a think piece on Vermont in June 23 Vermont Digger talks about more housing and density among other elements in revitalizing Vermont "To revitalize Vermont: lsiten to the young people."

Here is my response posted today:

Some good ideas here, some incomplete. First, regardless of what we do the die is cast--the graying of Vermont is real and nothing can change the slow but steady decline (in many cases severe) of under 65 population.  This graying of Vermont (doubling our senior population share from 12% to 24% between 2010-2030, or over 90,000 more 65--and-over residents is being repeated to a lesser extent throughout the northeast and the nation). Second, while good transportation (rail, public transit, etc. and we have a long way to go to make it so) makes sense, the lack of walkable (first) and bikable (second) downtowns and village centers remains widespread--one good example of how the U.S. went from first worldwide in highway safety in 1990 to 19th today.  First and foremost we need safe intersections for all modes--roundabouts--and bikable lanes, i.e. sidepaths and cycle track.  (As an aside Montpelier and Manchester Center both well on their way to walkable downtowns and Montpelier with its east west Winooski Transportation Plath [lighted and plowed in winter] show the way on bikable--both have Main Street corridors partly or fully roundaboutzed, the absolute necessity for both walkable and bikable.)

A lot of baloney being circulated about both need for more housing and increased densities.  Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington--source of northwest and north central Vermont spike in rents since the mid-1990s (another story)--has over 1,400 units built or through key steps in development in last two years, enough to already double its vacancy rate to 3% and expected to grow, and its primary demand for housing--student population at UVM--now down over 700 from its peak of over 13,000 in 2010 and sure to continue declining as the statewide college age population 18-22 drops.  The State's official projection, a reduction of 22% during the current 2010-2030.

Since Vermont escaped the last century--as did a handful of states including Maine--the extreme ravages of both population growth and sprawl (thanks in great part to political leadership symbolized by Act 250), to use the claim of a density issue in Vermont downtowns and village centers borders on oxymoron when our statewide population grown a robust 300 residents since 2010 and no significant population growth (other than the senior demographic) is expected in the future.  So in the face of little or even negative population growth we can easily accommodate additional housing in large amounts in our existing built up areas with three-to-four story structures, new or rehabilitated.  Barre Street in Montpelier and Old North End in Burlington provide examples of both private and non-profit additions of major housing upgrades and added units easily maintaining both existing and needed increased densities. With a strong non-profit housing community housing affordability needs to be seriously addressed in terms of incomes policy and housing subsidies at both the state and federal levels.  

Remember not only the young need to be accommodated in downtowns and village centers with quality and safe walking cycling facilities, but so do seniors who also seek to access grocery stores, coffee shops, churches and community meetings and events--and the seniors are truly a growth opportunity for Vermont with most bringing with them practically guaranteed retirement incomes!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pine Street Coaltion Redesign Cuts Parkway Cost $11.6 million--NEW REDESIGN MAP!!

Coalition Re-design Cuts Parkway Construction Costs $11.6 million--NEW REDESIGN MAP!!

A preliminary estimate of construction cost savings from the Pine Street Coalition (PSC) Re-design Guidelines stands at $11.6 million.  The $11.6 million reduction is a third of the current construction cost estimate by Vermont of $33 million and a quarter of the total project cost estimates of $44.3 million.

And please find the excellent new map so you can see for yourself the new redesign guidelines in place:

The cost savings do not include substantially increasing service to all modes, reductions in maintenance expenses, decreased pollution and storm water runoff, providing a separate walk and bike facility from Parkway/Pine Street to Curis Lumber, and signficantly reduced costs from avoided crashes and serious injuries.
The largest cost saving, not building Parkway from from Flynn Avenue to Lakeside Avenue, amounts to $13.0 million savings.   Mini-roundabouts at $50,000 each replace $500,000 traffic signals at Pine/Maple and Pine/King intersections.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Burlington Town Center Development: Cannibal Towers?

Sinex's “Cannibal Towers”

The New York owner of Burlington Town Center Donald Sinex forces the City to change its zoning for height so he can almost triple the floors without public benefit from about six floors to fourteen, from a 65 feet limit to 160 feet. The project featuring two fourteen-story towers might better be called “Cannibal Towers.” The project doubles the Mall retail space, adds 374 units of housing, and floors of office space. But much of Cannibal Towers success depends on the demise of similar existing development and population shift from other parts of the Chittenden County. In a word there is no rationale or market demand for a project the size Mr. Sinex pursues. Besides his development can be mostly accommodated without resort to changing our zoning, as he pointed out in an early interview.  Of course no one really knows what Mr. Sinex is up to as no marketing study for the retail/office space/housing has been done by a responsible public agency. 

Look at the current retail environment and population trends here. First retail, parricularly big box and malls nationally and in this area downsize faster than the number of land line phones.  Sears nears bankruptcy and movement from stores to e-commerce has just begun. The University Mall is under water financially and we can expect even Williston big-box retail to begin to wilt. Therefore, no need to double the space of a now half empty Town Center mall! Simply, Mr. Sinex can only fill his mall by forcing other area retailers holding “going out of business” sales. Mr. Sinex proposes a “vulture mall.”

The housing and commercial space cannibal aspect gets a little more complicated. But it comes down to the numbers of area residents in a fast changing demographic picture. Overall, the population under 65 age is shrinking. During the 2010-2030 period our County non-senior population declines by 5% (double digits in Vermont overall). College age population in Vermont drops 22% or down 8,000 which means lower and lower student numbers at UVM and other area colleges and training schools. At the same time our County and statewide seniors growth doubles—over 90,000 seniors added, more than double Burlington's population!   During the 2010-2030 period our statewide population growth overall is likely 3-4% (from 2010 to 2015 Census estimates the State grew by a miniscule 300 or so residents).

So Mr. Sinex for both office space and for housing must look to draw from mostly other area towns' office space and housing there being no significant “growth” market here in the County, demographically speaking. For Mr. Sinex, the real opportunity may be just to build and then run away—cannibalizing is not an appetizing approach to “development”!