Two Burlington City Council committees have begun meeting jointly to review the recommendations of the Inclusionary Zoning Working Group (IZWG). The Work Group, which includes several Coalition members, met for the better part of a year to review the Inclusionary Zoning ordinance that has been in place, largely unchanged, since 1990. The recommendations included bold new suggestions for changes to the ordinance that ultimately center around the question of how communities can create inclusive and integrated new housing developments. Those recommendations have been under consideration by the City Council’s joint Ordinance and Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization Committees.
What is Inclusionary Zoning?
Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) is a tool used to require or otherwise encourage new housing developers to make a certain percentage of units affordable to low and moderate income residents when creating new housing developments. IZ can do this in a few ways: offsetting costs for developers, allowing them to bypass zoning restrictions, or fast-tracking permitting, among others. The National Low Income Housing Coalition goes into the nitty-gritty of inclusionary zoning here.
In Burlington, IZ applies to all new market-rate developments of 5 or more homes and to any non-residential structures that result in at least 10 homes. Of those, 15 to 25% (depending on the average market rate of the units) must be affordable and rented at 65% of area median income (AMI) or bought at 75% of AMI.
An example of IZ in Burlington is currently playing out in Burlington’s Waterfront areas, where IZ requires 25% of the homes to be affordable. This ordinance benefits the new Cambrian Rise development, a partnership between Champlain Housing Trust, Cathedral Square, Housing Vermont, and Farrell Development. The 739 homes at Cambrian Rise will count fully 60 new affordable homes for sale and 128 affordable rentals for families and seniors.
Why does Inclusionary Zoning matter?
IZ is vital in creating vibrant, inclusive communities because it ensures that everyone is included – not just those who can afford it. As the cost of living continues to outpace wages, it is important for cities to implement policies that allow everyone to take part in their community.
While the current Burlington ordinance requires 15 to 25% of units to be affordable, it does not necessarily dictate how seamlessly these units will be incorporated into the larger housing development. (It’s worth noting that, according to the ordinance, affordable units can’t be markedly different than market-rate ones; e.g., you shouldn’t be able to tell just from looking that a unit is “affordable”). IZ ordinances also have the power to decide whether affordable units can be separate from market-rate developments.
We’ve seen this question of integration versus inclusion play out a few different ways – the new Cambrian Rise development, for example, is a model for meaningful integration at all levels of affordability because the IZ-mandated units are part and parcel of the Cambrian Rise community as a whole.
And what about the working group?
Burlington City Council formed the IZWG to assess and update the IZ ordinance to make it consistent with best practices across the country. Their ultimate goal is to simplify the ordinance while protecting its original intent, which was to make sure housing development in Burlington remains inclusive.
The working group looked at four main areas:
Applicability, should the law apply to all projects or only some?
Quantity, how many affordable homes should be required?
Affordability, how should “affordable” be defined?
Other options, can a developer meet the obligation in ways other than on-site affordable homes?
The working group recommended revising the existing payment-in-lieu option so smaller projects could still contribute to the making affordable units without a burdensome cost. Instead of making one unit out of, say, five affordable per IZ requirements, the developer would have the option to contribute a set amount of money to Burlington’s Housing Trust Fund that the city would then use to create affordable housing units in a higher income neighborhood.
On November 7th, Mayor Weinberger submitted comments on the IZ Working Group’s recommendations. In general, the Mayor agreed with the recommendations. One notable exception is the payment tier structure of the payment-in-lieu options. Under the IZ Working Group’s recommended structure, the Mayor is concerned that the price-per-unit cutoff would deter developers from creating more units. For example, a 16-unit development would pay $70,000 while a 17-unit development would pay $210,000. The Office of the Mayor proposed a more graduated fee structure using a marginal fee approach.
Mayor Weinberger also disagreed with recommendations regarding adjusting the sale price of owner-occupied units from 75% AMI to 70% AMI and reducing the income eligibility threshold from 100% AMI to 80% AMI.
All of the considerations the IZWG took into account, as well as the Mayor’s response to them, get to the heart of what IZ is really all about: what do we want the future of Burlington to look like, and who is included in these visions? There are many ways to approach these questions and many solutions that may solve them.
To view the working group’s report, including an executive summary of their recommendations, go here. Here is a link to the working group’s webpage. For information on the deliberations of the joint Ordinance and Community Development & Neighborhood Revitalization Committees, click here. The two committees are holding a public hearing on the recommendations on Tuesday, December 11, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, Contois Auditorium, Burlington City Hall.