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 apartments.com 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.
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
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.
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.