By Councilor Jim Duncan
I serve as the City Council Liaison to the Housing Commission, which is charged with helping Council and staff "ensure a mix of quality housing that maintains and enhances Winooski’s unique sense of place and supports the needs of the entire community". The Housing Commission met on September 28th and October 26th, exploring 1) progress made in meeting Winooski Master Plan housing goals, 2) beginning discussions on policy work ahead that relate to housing access and stability in the community, and 3) reviewing indicators of impact from COVID-19 on housing stability.
Significant work will happen on setting up the Housing Trust Fund in the coming months, drawing heavily on City staff time with periodic review by the Commission. While City staff move that important work forward, the Commission is beginning to compile known issues and challenges in Winooski related to housing in the ongoing pandemic and familiarizing themselves with policy options available. By sifting through responses that other towns and cities across the country have taken, they can advise City staff and Council on policies to support homeowners, landlords, and renters through the unique challenges we’re facing. In addition, the Commission will connect with other groups in Vermont who are advocating for high-impact programs at the state level to support housing security through the pandemic and beyond. If you have concerns you would like to share, please get in touch.
The City Council is checking in on the progress the City is making towards its goals in the Master Plan. As part of this, I facilitated a discussion in September about how we are doing in meeting Winooski’s goals for housing. The Housing Commission focuses primarily on a subset related to the affordability, quality, and mix of housing in the City, and the work done so far has directly supported those goals. The launch of the Housing Trust Fund will further these efforts despite delays due to COVID. Looking ahead, the Commission is interested in exploring what a desirable level of family housing through 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom units could be, and how to incentivize its development in the City. They also will continue to monitor the effects of past decisions and current programs on the goals we have for housing in the City and would like to see a sustainable funding source for the Trust Fund established.
Finally, in September the Commission reviewed data on how the pandemic is affecting housing stability in the City. As of that time, payment of rent in Winooski appears to be largely on track. Within the Winooski Housing Authority residents are not applying for Vermont’s Rental Housing Stabilization Program without significant support from staff, and the requirement to reapply periodically is creating challenges. Early responses from other landlords show only a handful anticipate evictions for non-payment of rent coming up. Meanwhile, Winooski property owners are utilizing the Mortgage Assistance Program at a slightly higher rate (5%) than Chittenden County overall (4%). The Commission did not see a significant and imminent concern in the City and will continue to monitor this, with the next update expected in November.
A reminder that if you are having trouble paying your rent or mortgage, there are supports available:
The Housing Commission meets on the 4th Monday each month and meetings are open to the public. The next meeting will take place on November 23rd at 6 PM.
Please get in touch if you have any input or questions on the work of the Commission – Jim Duncan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to learn more about the Housing Commission and get involved.