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 October 25th to review current conditions around housing quality and discuss funding sources of the Housing Trust Fund - click here for background information.
The Commission was joined by Fire Chief John Audy. He runs the Code Enforcement Program in the City, which is responsible for making sure rental units and commercial property meet standards for health and life safety. Using a 56-point checklist, they inspect every rental property on a four-year cycle. Winooski’s housing stock is older on average than others in Chittenden County, and some properties have significant needs for maintenance. The Chief urged the Commission to consider how Winooski takes care of the housing it already has. The Commission and Chief discussed what needs to be done to educate and empower tenants so that they know who to talk to and when and how to speak up about housing quality issues. On the flip side, they also discussed what it might take to get landlords connected to resources and support they need to improve rentals through maintenance and respond to complaints from tenants. The equity audit currently underway in the City has a focus on housing and will identify where tenant and landlord supports could be improved. Once the audit is complete, the Commission will continue to work on this issue. You can learn more about the City’s housing standards and resources here.
The Commission next discussed possible funding sources for the Housing Trust Fund. The Fund already has money and much of that will be given out as low-interest loans, meaning the Fund should get paid back and be able to redistribute the money again. But to meet Winooski’s ongoing housing needs, additional input of money over time will be needed, and City Council asked the Housing Commission to recommend sources. The Commission discussed using federal pandemic recovery (ARPA) funding, transferring money from the underutilized Small Business Loan Fund, transferring money from the Winooski Community Development Corporation reserve funds, and dedicating a percentage of future downtown redevelopment area tax revenue. The Commission felt strongly that the Fund needs more than a one-time infusion, and discouraged use of the Small Business Loan Fund and the Winooski Community Development Corporation reserves as these may be needed in the future or fund important staff positions.
The Commission also reviewed a memo that will be sent to the Planning Commission identifying several strategies for using zoning to improve housing availability and how they might be relevant in Winooski. This comes from the State of Vermont’s Zoning for Great Neighborhoods guide and was the subject of significant discussion at the September Housing Commission meeting, which I unfortunately could not attend – click here to check out the notes from that meeting.
Interested in hearing more about Winooski’s current work around housing? The November 15th City Council meeting will include an update on how the City is meeting its housing goals, and this will be a great opportunity to learn and share about housing-related issues in the City. Please consider joining us! The Housing Commission meets on the 4th Monday each month and meetings are open to the public – please join us to share your views and ideas on housing in the City! The next meeting will take place on November 22nd at 6 PM.
To learn more about the Housing Commission and how to get involved, please visit https://www.winooskivt.gov/233/Housing-Commission.
Please get in touch if you have any input or questions on the work of the Commission – Jim Duncan, email@example.com.