The Brattleboro Selectboard learned about housing issues and possible strategies for addressing some serious housing needs during their first regular meeting of December . 500 housing units is the low estimate of what Brattleboro needs, now, and the selectboard is eager to make it an actual goal.
The board also approved corrections and updates to a Civil War monument, preserving the original but annotating it with a new plaque and information about the people of color and lower classes of soldiers not named on the original. They won’t name them on the new plaque, but will be directed to further information.
Pre-meeting banter: the mics are on, seeing Gary, or maybe Mary, wearing extra layers…
Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin – no s[pecific remarks.
Town manager Elwell – no comments.
Jessica Gelter – I’ve been getting questions about the mask mandate and the performing arts, so I’d like it on the agenda to discuss possible exemptions.
Ian Goodnow – shout out the the Words Project for their recent award. Check it out. The other thing is elections, and election season. If people want petitions for elected office you need to go tot he Town Clerk’s office. Deadline is Jan 24th at 5pm. Town Meeting members need 10 valid signatures, and town and school officers need 30 from registered voters. One 3 yr selectboard seat. One 1 year, RTM moderator, and so on…
Kurt Daims – I work with Brattleboro Common Sense on issues, such as climate. There is a lag between what scientists say and what governments are aware of. The public knows there is a problem with the climate. Scientists call for drastic, revolutionary action and we aren’t really doing that. There is also the study showing young people are not upset about the climate so much as adults not doing or taking action that scientists recommend. Children feel betrayed by adult society. I want to suggest we change our thinking and summon the guts to take serious action on the climate. If they are right, we are betraying them. That should guide our intiatives.
A. Rule Requiring Face Coverings in Indoor Public Spaces – Continue in Full Effect
B. FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant for Brush Fire Gear – Authorize Application
C. ARPA Grant from Vermont Department of Libraries to Brooks Memorial Library – Accept and Appropriate
D. Green Up Vermont Grant for Water Bottle Filling Station at Brooks Memorial Library – Authorize Application
Hermit Thrush Brewery – Outside Consumption Permit
Elwell – Hermit Thrush wants an outside consumption permit. Staff issued them a permit during COVID. The understanding was that those things would come to you for approval, but also new applications are coming and this is new because they had operated for over a year with two locations in the High Grove parking lot. The State said eliminate the second one. The state wants one outside consumption area. We’ve talked with Hermit Thrush and surrounding businesses, and looking at safety, and what we are allowing is a setup that keeps the area contagious and immediately outside the door of Hermit Thrush. We recommend approval.
Tim Wessel – is the map how it is configured now. My request is someone keeps an eye on where the jersey barrier is against the sidewalk and ice might build up.
Jessica – outdoor consumption in public spaces is generally frowned upon… is this a long term idea to keep them in view of the public, or is it temporary. If it is longterm, the planning commission should take it up.
Elwell – yes – tonight is for the short term – this winter. All licenses come back by April 1. Staff will address how to approach this for the long term. We want more parakeets. Liven up the outside spaces. Encourage more use. WE have two used this year. The goal is to promote more parakeet activity but there need to be some rules around it. We recommend approving this tonight, and it will come up again.
Civil War Monument – Proposed Corrective and Interpretive Plaque
Elwell – I’ll ask that the monument committee – Curtis, Joe… join us and raise your hand. I’m pleased to present on behalf of the committee to present this, then they can speak. It was a collaborative effort. It originated with some social action by three students at Brattleboro Area Middle School. They had worked with Joe Rivers doing research around this topic and they discovered some missing info and some incorrect information. Three students – Avery Bennett, Priya Kitzmiller and Annelle Thiers – wanted to do something about it. They presented me with the research and asked what could be done. It was important to gather perspectives from the community to get the right information and what would be the town’s action. A corrected interpretive plaque, and its wording, was collaborative. The 7 participants are the students, Joe Rivers, Curtiss Reed, Mel Motel, and John Hagen at the American Legion. Took about 14 months. Came up with the recommendation. This is about racial and social justice. African Americans were excluded, and other poor people… We’d install a bronze plaque next to the existing monument that says this soldiers monument was meant to honor those who fought for the Civil War… it was made by…sculpted by… granite from… dedicated in 1887. Research by students and BHS is that the information is missing, incomplete, racist and classist. 450 men served and 66 died from Brattleboro. Misses 22 African American from Brattleboro at various battles. * of those soldiers died. The west facing artwork has a african american receiving freedom from the white men. It purports a myth. This monument failed to recognize the service of african americans, and people who were paid by richer people to take their place. … this will have a QR code so text can be opted and added to over time. We ask you approve this corrective plaque and that you authorize up to $15k for the project. Expect this to be done by spring and decimated on Juneteenth next year.
Curtiss – this is a testament to the tenacity and skills of the three students, and the skillful teaching and guiding by Joe. It was a win with or without the plaque. My other title is founder of the African American Heritage Trail. The student followed up on all my suggestions for identifying more information. It’s a brilliant idea to bring a Juneteenth celebration to Brattleboro, and the telling of Vermont’s history as it relates to African Americans. Fully support this project.
Joe Rivers – this took over six years. The American Legion contacted BHS about an anniversary with a request to know if the numbers on the monument were accurate. We involved over 150 students over time doing research. We needed their help and support. Student are more adept at digital research than we are. We appreciate their efforts and have worked with public schools for many years. This is an exercise in civil government that my students have been able to learn from. Thanks.
Ian Goodnow – I have prepared remarks – thanks to the students for staying engaged to honor those forgotten. Future generations will know a more complete story. Thanks to Joe for his time and leadership, questioning historical norms. Thanks to the other members of the committee for bringing their experiences to the table, and my gratitude to the BIPOC soldiers and their sacrifice to their service of their community.
Daniel Quipp – I was really moved reading the memo and correction. Brief but powerful. Carries a lot of meaning. WE didn’t do any of the work on this but will get some credit. This stuff doesn’t pop up out of nowhere. Glad that history is not a static finished thing. We’ll do this small thing, our small part in history. How did they figure out people were missing?
Joe – How much time do you have? It began – James Fuller wrote a book about men of color and he is in Essex VT. That was the basis that we realized not everyone mentioned in the article is in the book. None were. WE realized African Americans had not been recognized. From there, there were articles in the 1990’s, we looked at websites. State of VT had a revised roster from 1892 that was more accurate. Those resources helped drive us.
Tim – nice remarks Ian. I think. I find it poignant. I’m also a member of BHS, not very active, but the process isn’t only educational for the students but for all of us. This is an elegant solution to things left out, while respecting the history of the monument itself. It shows how a community can correct some wrongs while recognizing people in the past couldn’t see what was right. I feel a continuum of history and honored to be a tiny part of this.
Jessica – Ian said it so well. Great appreciation for all the work that was done and to be a part of this. I’ll say something surprising – this is beautiful and amazing and the line that stood out was the line about classism and racism being built into the monument – part of me feels like this isn’t enough, and I’d like a next step. Something that translates it into something visual, emotional… like the original. It would be so meaningful to have a next step in this process. To compliment the landscape there and add to the story visually there. That’s the controversial thing I’ll say.
Liz – all over VT there are civil war monuments. I’m hoping this is an example to all towns to correct the record if it need correcting. Great example of civil action and creating change, and that we get to vote for truth and justice on a Tuesday night.
Dick DeGray – great work by Joe and the students. My question is – will this be illuminated at night. I think it would be a great feature.
Elwell – not currently
DeGray – don’t you think it would be a good idea? That’s why I’m asking. Couldn’t it be added? It wouldn’t cost too much to illuminate this for nighttime and a great visual for the common.
Elwell – if you’d like us to price out lighting….
Ian – the other one isn’t lit? None of the other ones?
Elwell – I believe that to be true. There are streetlights but nothing spotlighting highlighting items in the park.
Liz – people will have lights in their cellphones for QR codes.
Tim – some lighting for the Vietnam memorial?
Elwell – yup, some embedded…
Tim – maybe a report on where we are with lighting and what we could do..
Rikki Risatti – I have a lot of questions. I’m confused about aspects of this. Host won’t let me turn on the video – oh, here I am, Hi. Looked at the meeting minutes and it said there was more of a description about the monument and none were posted online. I’d like to see a drawing or a visual before it has been approved.
Elwell – there isn’t a drawing – it will be a granite block 3 feet high with a slanted face and bronze plaque with the text.
Risatti – where is the text?
Elwell – it’s in the draft minutes and supporting documents online at Town’s website. Backup materials for meeting tonight. I also read it a few minutes ago. The full text is on the town’s website.
Daniel – can we email it to Rikki?
Rikki – we should honor people by name and not numbers.
Elwell – there was discussion of this. There was summary info about the old monument. The committee wanted to correct that and provide the information where the corrected information is provided in the same manner, rather than by doing it differently and naming individuals.
Rikki – you are perpetuating calling them numbers rather than by their names. That’s a shame. Any intention to correct an emphasis on the current image of freeing a person of color… about how slavery wasn’t abolished in the VT constitution.
Curtis Reed – the intent is to have a QR code that will provide all the detailed information and documentation for the plaque.
Rikki – it would be better to have it published for those without that tech. Is there any plans for paying the bounties to soldiers who weren’t given their contract dues? Just over $6k x 22 soldiers not paid, so $135k?
Elwell- that’s a separate issue. These were soldiers but not recognized on our Brattleboro monument, so we are correcting the Brattleboro monument.
Rikki – were they paid their contract dues?
Elwell – no plans to pay anything out…
Rikki – then its genocidal to continue to deny the payments to the descendants of this harmed.
John Watkins –
Daniel Quipp – Rikki asked if the names who served to be on the monument and that’s a fair question. The event in 1887, those names were read at the time and at our event we’ll read the complete list of names not read at the time, and it will go into the parers for the historical record.
Rikki – I feel disappointed in the conclusion of how this is being handled without memorializing the actual names, and investing in a reparations department for soldiers that were not paid.
Jessica – Rikki’s comments about a names – there is a burial plot in the South Main graveyard – were they also excluded there?
Joe – there are 56 names we know of from Brattleboro who lost their lives. The ones buried at Prospect Hill were at the hospital, soldiers who were never collected by their families or towns. They were from other locations. Buried at the hospital then moved to Prospect Hill.
Daniel – I love history. If 56 people died in service, they died elsewhere. If you died in battle, would your body have been brought back? Where are they?
Joe – most are not in town. Families could travel to collect remains. Many were buried at battlefield sites. Not many are in Brattleboro.
Gary Stroud – hi everybody – this question is about family members – will you oft them and have them come and have some closure?
Curtiss – I can image that. To have a celebration and if there are any descendants, if we can locate them… we had two dedications of state historic markers where were were able to locate descendants – not easy, but we’ll try.
Gary – I’m willing to help out. Families need closure.
RTM Steering Committee Recommendations and Requests
Millicent Cooley – thanks for letting me speak. I’m the Chair of the new steering committee as a 3 year goal and we have four topics -the first is voting at the RTM for steering committee – we’d like our Town Meeting Members to choose members from the floor and at future RTMs as is done with other committees. We want people who know were accountable and representative of RTM. We have wording for the article and to see if RTM will elect the RTM Steering Committee for a One Year Term.
Elwell – we’re working on the draft warning and you’ll take action in January. We can add this to the draft if you want us to.
Daniel – so some committees have a limit on the number on the committee?
Elwell – the Finance Committee has no limit. Human Services is the same way…. capital Grants is always two members, by Charter.
Daniel – should there be a limit on the number of members? Vote by slate or one by one?
Millicent – we have a very large committee – some may say too large, but we don’t know what will happen next year or what we need. The mechanism for voting a certain number could be complicated at RTM, so we decided that we’d go for a simple approach, like the other committees. It’s understandable, and we’ll see what happens next year. WE’re still learning things on this committee.
Ewell – Charter only mentions Capital Grants Review.
Tim – this seems like RTM business, but my only concern might be the wording of the original formation says the committee shall automatically dissolve in three years. Will anyone be concerned you are reconfiguring membership after one year.
Millicent – we want to allow more people to join/leave. We’re not asking to extend the 3 year period. Just to tell us who members want to see on the committee.
Daniel – thanks to Tim that this is RTM’s business and we just put it on the warning.
Rikki – I’m on the committee and would like them all be as inclusive with no limits. There is a profound amount of wrk to do, even those who disagree with one another. I regret how conservative the proposal was to pass lunch because we know the meetings have been multi-day, into the evenings… I’d like to see generosity to include breakfast and dinner and snacks as well.
Millicent – lunch is not on the agenda today.
Rikki – it’s on the agenda I have for tonight (editor: me, too!)
Millicent – two childcare issues, for 2022 and for 2023. Childcare was first offered in 2019, then we had COVID, the need for improved childcare was mentioned in the survey we sent out. They wanted improved quality of childcare. They mentioned they didn’t know it was offered or found it to be missing some things – caregivers reading phones, not enough activities, snacks, and so forth. Don’t know how much money has been set aside for it, but hope the Town expends funds for high quality childcare. Some organization – BEEC and VT Wilderness School are good childcare. Need to promote it well.
Elwell – there was a plan in place for 2020. Town had made plans with Winston Prouty to provide childcare. That first year, it was a town meeting and a school district meeting, held at the school. The first year we were at a loss as to how to do well. It’s not what we do. We asked the school to make arrangements and we’d pay. It was pretty simple. Not an organized day of activities. Appreciate the feedback. There was childcare at the informational meeting just before COVID – hardly anyone used it. We plan to use Winston Prouty in 2022 if we have an in person meeting and they are willing. We can be direct to explore other options.
Liz – it might be a remote meeting. If it is remote, what are your thoughts about childcare if it is remote? Do people want someone to care for their children during the zoom meeting?
Millicent – we didn’t discuss that. I’ll sk the committee. It’s a good question. Hard to imagine how that will work… this was a request for 2022, and the request in 2023 is that the funds are in the budget for it.
Elwell – I don’t think it needs more funding directed to it. It’s included in the elections line item. We already plan to provide childcare and pay for it. Not a budgetary matter for ’23. The question is whether Winston Prouty is ok or want something different?
Ian – happy with them. I’d like to hear what they plan to do at a meeting someday.
Tim Wessel – I don’t feel.. there may have been some comments about it being not engaging enough… Winston Prouty should be fine. We’d need more details.
Millicent – it would be great to hear the plan, so we can promote it.
Daniel – when will we decide if there is an unperson RTM?
Elwell – when the legislature was in special session, they said the first order of business in January will be a bill to allow town meetings to be warned as postponed or by Australian ballot. They can’t be on zoom because they can’t control who is on the meeting. The only place is Brattleboro – we have a controlled universe of people elected to be in that meeting. I expect they’ll adopt the same resolution again, so you will probably will be able to have a zoom, hybrid, or unperson meeting.
Daniel – we are able to find out the wishes of RTM on this?
Elwell – you can’t poll them on policy to be voted on, but you can on scheduling matters. You’ll decide this with Yoshi. Hybrid would be extremely difficult. The decision will be all in person or all virtual.
Daniel – we should ask RTM
Liz – ask them, and it is up to us on public safety, too.
Ian – we already did this before.
Liz – a poll in January?
Fhar Miess – I think a poll would be great. I’d ask what your preference is and would either option preclude your participation. I might prefer one option…
Millicent – the committee steering committee wants to urge the appointment of a charter revision commission asap. One needs to be appointed by 2023. In our discussions we’ve had suggestion in conflict with the charter or need a charter change. That’s not for us to deliberate. We suggest a Charter Commission so we can send those suggestions.
Elwell – there is a deadline for a new Charter Commission. You can do it sooner.
Ian – do you have a date of that deadline?
Elwell – there’s been some debate over what triggers it. By this time next year you should be appointing a committee. Whether it is October or January.
Ian – I though a lot about this one. This one I feel a little differently on. WE have a new Town manager in one month who will have a lot of stuff to handle, and given the requirement of appointing within a year, I don’t mind waiting longer to give Yoshi time to getting used to being in Brattleboro before he has to support this committee. I think 6 months to a year is not a great loss.
Millicent – Yoshi needs to be able.. we didn’t think about the support. It would been a lot of support form the town manager?
Elwell – staff’s role would be substantial. We give interpretations and offer perspectives. Even simple things like proper meeting warnings. There is some support work, then more substantive issue work.
Tim – A point of clarification – in the notes it says you are assuming it would be appointed in 2023?
Elwell – there was a process in the fall of 2007 through which a charter review commission was created, and the work was begun… is the deadline the beginning or end of the process? I thought it would be early 2023 for the deadline, but some will argue the point that it was created in fall 2007 and that is the date we’re tied to 15 years later. You can avoid them so long as you are transparent about moving forward with this within a year.
Lis – compared to renewing Town Plan every five years, you don’ start from the beginning fo writing. You start from the end of the process.
Elwell – the Charter is different, though. The last one met for several years and it took longer to get approved in Montpelier. It was approved in 2013. We don’t tie to that… we go back to 2007 or 8.
Daniel – Springfield has a very clear charter… maybe the next review should clear up charter reviewing
Tim – December 202 is the outside deadline. My question is… hearing here are things that need to be talked about.. need some hints or I can’t think of how to speed it up. What’s broke that needs fixing?
Millicent – we’re deliberately not spending time on that. We have no agreement on that. People suggest things and we just put them on a list. We see that issues have come up.
Tim – so I see no need to accelerate the process.
Daniel – the language used is Charter Revision Commission – Review and revision mean different things. Review is to look at it. Revise is to change it.
Elwell – in the Charter – it is a Charter Revision Commission, empowered to review the Charter. (chuckle)
Ian – you have the charter at every meeting?
Elwell – yes
Daniel – this isn’t easy work and we appreciate what you’ve done. We need broad participation of the public acting in the interests of the town. I want us to go slow and be intentional. I’d like to hear more how this committee works…
Liz – we could discuss that, some other time. I’m in favor of the last possible minute and we have slow going people surrounding me.
Jessica – you specify the intent is to provide suggestions for Charter Changes – the last one took 3 years. If the deadline isn’t the recommendations… what is the urgency?
Millicent – it’s coming up soon and people in the committee want things that would come from a charter change.
Elwell – how should we proceed? Nodding acceptance? There are three things here… voting, childcare, and charter review.
(They skipped over “and providing lunch at the 2022 and 2023 RTMs.”)
Liz – thanks Millicent….
Dick Degray – Interesting listening about the Charter I was a board member from 2006 to 2013 though that whole process. Getting going sooner to address things… if there is something egregious, there are other processes to change the Charter outside of the commission. It isn’t RTM members automatically picked. The voters at large. The selectboard can choose the size. Larger isn’t better. Hard to get things done that way. I’d agree waiting til later. It’s a three or four year process before it goes to the legislature. It’s a long cumbersome process and you should really deliberate that you get it right.
Liz – thanks Millicent…
Fhar Meiss – thanks again – another thing about the time and urgency. One thing Lauren brought up in his presentation was that he felt it was important and urgent to get t started. That speaks a lot to me. He kore than anyone has a clear view of what’s needed for clear functioning.
Millicent – yup.. that’s true.
Fhar – regarding the childcare, the issue of 2022 was addressed but not much of 2023 and that being put on the warning?
Elwell – I offered that what RTM Steering has asked for is already in motion. We were already looking at making this ongoing. No action needs to be directed. It’s already happening.
Fhar – the other thing is that I saw that provision for providing lunch. Sad it was taken off the agenda… I hope it is considered in the future.
Millicent – yup.
LIz – thanks Millicent…. it is after 8 so let’s take a break until 8:15.
Housing Action Plan – Update in Preparation for Final Report and Recommendations
Liz – thanks for coming back. Sue Fillion will join us…
Sue Fillion – good evening. Thanks for having me. I’m here with Rachel from Camoin Associates and we want to let you know where we are. We plan to wrap up the report by end of December. We got a planning rant earlier this year, hired Camoin Associates. Rachel is a certified community planner. Rachel will give a brief overview. We did have a steering committee for this project and lots of partners in housing and social services, BDCC, Out in the Open, NAACP…
Rachel Selsky – can you see the presentation? Brattleboro Housing Needs Assessment. Thanks for having us. Wonderful to be here. It’s been a long process. These are some data findings, strategies and goals. We have done housing data collection and analysis, supply and demand, one on one interviews, focus groups, a community survey that led to a draft report and draft strategy outline. Key findings – there is a population decline/stagnation. Families have declined and senior population has grown. There is increased demand for rental units. Increase in low income households and pressure on units at obtainable price points. There is a lack of new housing development, driving up costs of what’s available. Housing is inaccessible to residents. It pushes prices up and is unaffordable for residents. There is a high level of underhoused (living with others) and overburdened (spending more than 30% of income on housing) people in Brattleboro. The imbalance is impacting marginalized populations. There are limited options for seniors. They remain in big homes because there aren’t other options. Housing issues are containing employers and job creation. There is a pressing need for over 500 housing units – 60% for incomes under $50k. The private market is unable to address this need alone. Hard to build units for middle income people. A need for public-private partnerships.
Rachel – strategies and goals. There will be four goals, then strategies for each, and also there will be tactics – a step by step guide to implementation. Tonight we’ll just look at goals and strategies. Town won’t be the only player… other organizations and people will need to be involved.
1. Work with developers to increase supply and quality of diverse housing – the number of units, from affordable through market rate. There is a need for all of it. Will require creative partnerships. Strategies include – conduct a study to identify key sites for housing, attract assisted/independent living developer.
2. Create new funding strategies to rehab affordable and middle income housing. Establiush a community housing fund to fund projects. Explore employer assisted housing. Create a predevelopment loan program. Have a rental rehab program. Consider new sources of funds.
3. Support Residents in Finding and retaining Quality Housing.
4. Create and implementation Framework to monitor housing issues,communicating needs, building capacity, and collaborating with partners. Review land use and codes, create a short term rental registration program, do public education…
So that’s kind of the quick overview of the strategy and the plan. Each will have more specific tactics. These were presented at a public meeting and we’ll take that feedback plus tonights’ and refine things.
Liz – interesting and I need to ponder. This is just what we were looking for.
Ian – thank you for the great presentation. There is a lot to digest. The summary of the issues is kinda terrifying. I’m very aware of our housing crisis, but seeing it all laid out is sobering. There are clear goals and tactics for us. Sue, what do you see us doing first in 2022?
Sue – some are easy to do right away – identification of parcels that can have development is something they are committing to, and we applied for a land use update grant, a virtual housing office is something that could come with the new website. This are the easy ones that we would definitely do. We have good partner engagement and are lookin at federal funds. The $30k from CARES funding helped create new units and bring others back online. Hope that comes back. We have buy-in from other partners. We are often having conversations with developers and it has picked up lately. We’re doing quite a few things in the report and will prioritize more.
Liz – the timing – with federal and state money coming that this is a perfect time to be assessing our needs and getting on lists and programs that are available.
Sue – yes, timing works really well.
Daniel – thanks for the presentation. I came to the community meeting and enjoyed the voting tool. I really am daunted by and motivated by 500 units. That’s the low estimate of what we need. That we would commit to fining a way for 500 units in the near future. I’d love to find space for 500 units, and if that can’t be done, that’s the magnitude of the challenge. It’s the kind of scale we need to aim for. Large impact, or else we’re shooting too low. You mentioned a goal of a housing officer. I work for an agency that provides that kind of support. There are others that provide housing services. Maybe there needs to be better understanding of what’s out there. Town doesn’t need to create a new position. The need for seniors to transition to new homes. Family members of mine want to age in place – move the bedroom downstairs. or move to Valley Cares in Townshend. I’d be excited about finding ways to provide more options for seniors which free up more properties for younger people to move in and renovate. Those are the things I want to keep in mind.
Tim – thanks. Sue, this board and previous boards I’ve served on have approved setbacks and such to get people to think creatively about accessory development. I considered it myself. I have a weird backyard and could have an AUD on it, but I don’t know how to afford it. Getting to connecting the owner with the program is the missing piece. Trying to build a unit within a unit was a hassle. I sold the place. If I found it difficult…. I understand buildings. If someone had no experience they wouldn’t have a chance. Someone connecting those grants with people would be a good person to have.
Sue – one thing we’ve talked about in the department was to do some pretermitted accessory development units…work with an architect to reduce costs. Every lot would have challenges, but if we had some approved designs for standalone… as for a staff person. Yes, we will need individual property owners to be involved.
Tim – Rachel, part of my frustration years ago was a project at the museum. There was pushback in the community. To make a big project happen, you have to combine tax credits and funding mechanisms and you get some luxury units, and affordable units, and in-between. 60% of the need is for under $59k incomes. How do we get the rest of the community excited about something that could happen a solution that combines upper and lower incomes?
Rachel – that is a big challenge. The need is there for affordable units. But to make a project like that happen, there need to be the capacity for the funding to be there, or the project dies. We’ve seen this in many communities. Pushback against projects with higher end units in it, and when they adjust it down, the developer goes elsewhere. One tactic is public awareness of the role housing plays People in Brattleboro are more aware than most communities. Residents know there is an issue. Connecting it to themselves… that’s what it is. Hitting it over the head that there need to be the full continuum of units for it to be successful.
Liz – I went to a forum at the museum about housing and all the people were saying that the only housing being built is low income housing and there needs to be housing across the board. Doctors won’t move here because there is no place to live. I’d applaud to efforts to have all types of housing.
Jessica – about zoning changes. How does it impact the future what we did in the past?
Sue – we feel some areas still need to be tweaked. We did the whole thing in 2015 and made excellent changes. After 6 years, it’s not so great in some places. More mature neighborhoods where setbacks are an issue. We got rid of density requirements but these are small lots close together. Planned unit developments haven’t been used that much. Might want some additional tools, like allowing infill townhouses. Possibly allow more than one accessory development by right, or allowing more than one principle building on a lot. In terms of zoning districts, we have a lot of vacant land on existing parcels good for infill housing. We don’t have large areas for housing developments. In some places we preserve existing development and limit growth, so we might want to look at that.
Jessica – I like that ownership came up in the plan, as a summary item. It’s a tool for a path to wealth building for lower income folks. There was one strategy for addressing inequity – is there anything else that could increase equitable access to these programs?
Rachel – we don’t call out a path to homeownership, but we do talk about creation of a housing cooperative for people to buy in and build some wealth. The other one is around increasing access to all the programs around training, education, credit repair, home ownership courses. Those two increase literacy around the path to home ownership. We want to focus on creating the units. Not everyone wants home ownership. I’ll take a look at it and look for opportunities to highlight the home ownership path.
Rikki – I have been bailed out of horrible living situations by SEVCA because I was too poor to do it myself. I have only one grievance, so I’d support alternative agencies to help… I was in another horrible situation and they wouldn’t meet me in person before COVID and denied my presenting case to them and said I needed a representative to do it for me. It’s so shameful. I’m also in section 8 property, and they try to make things work that don’t work. Pay 30% of our income, but if you have disabilities and medical expenses. You get $10k a year and have to pay 30% to housing? The pressure and stress and constant trouble of not being fined for being poor – it’s hard to cope and survive. 30% of income doesn’t really solve anything.
Sonia Silbert – (feedback) I appreciated the presentation and report. In my experience, I was surprised to not see more underlining of the impact of seasonal and second homes. Three friends lost their homes because people sold to out of owners paying cash above listing prices. Also, so mush rental stock is now Air BnB… we need 500 units – there are existing units that could be used differently. I’ve lived in places that gentrify rapidly, the only thing that helping me to stay was strong rent control laws. Landlords couldn’t sell unless someone would live in the rental. In addition to building houses and resources, there need to be policies and regulations. Impact of seasonal second homes, and short term rentals…
Rachel – good points – we looked at short term rentals listed and pulled data and it looked like 103 short term rentals in 2021, so we are tracking that number and want those units to be registered as a first step. Regarding seasonal housing – those experiences – it’s a COVID impact and Brattleboro us a great place to live with great recreation. There will be continual impact. We worked in Dover and the impact there was greater than in Brattleboro. There are policies that could be considered. Other communities have short term rental polices.
Sue – at the public workshop there was concern about out of state people buying investments here and we did talk about other strategies to help with that. To stop speculation. It was brought up. Maybe a local org could buy properties and make sure they stay local.
Sonia – I’d like to see some recommended policies. I’ve been through this before in other cities, and cities can intentionally protect from speculation. Our community is hot, but we need to be intentional about people being able to rent and live here long term. Won’t happen if we leave it up to the market.
Daniel – in the occupancy data it speaks to 139 seasonal homes. Do we have a factual figure? From the census? I want to get 500 new… are 139 here could become some of them. is this a real number?
Sue – no answer off the top of my head… good question.
Daniel – in seasonal homes – we have 103 for short term rentals – would they be part of that 139?
Rachel – I’d expect they are in the renter occupied numbers.
Daniel are there accurate numbers of the homes people aren’t living in year round. I’d like the number so we can start from there.
Liz – the stats being cited for dilapidated houses… you can fix those faster than you can do something about seasonal properties.
Ian – is short term rental registration program – can we do that?
Sue – I believe we can do it. The state was considering doing it. I’ll look in to it…
Tim – when we say short term rentals… they aren’t impacting the housing market significantly. And the numbers have gone down.
Ian – so we should register them to track these numbers…
Tim – we need that data.
Daniel – yea, real hard data.
Sue – a potential registry – short term rentals are bad, but if I’m renting space to help stay in my home that is something different than an investment rental. Couple hundred units proposed at Winston Prouty.
Daniel – that’s the scale of the kind of thing we need.
Fhar Miess – I love this report. Great things in here. One thing that frustrates me is the report puts a string emphasis on the lower income housing needs, and I hear what about doctors and lawyers. I hope when rubber meets the road, that the implementation isn’t held hostage by upper middle class lives matter agenda. I’d hate to see it subverted data shows people at the lower income scale are in a more dire situation than doctors and lawyers. The other thing – how hard it is to get development to pencil out for developers. Market based solutions are very limited. Maybe consider non-market based solutions. Cooperative housing – maybe limited equity cooperative housing? I’ve heard from all fo you that housing is a human right and that needs to taken seriously. if housing is a commodity, it isn’t a human right. Need to be serious. And, for conservation – there was a plan for the Whetstone Brook resilience plan that made space for housing in the urban core and helped with flood mitigation. Hope that will be reconsidered in the future. Is there a plan for it?
Sue – there are parts of that. 250 Birge Street, The housing part is most challenging. We planned over other people’s properties. We’d need willing sellers of existing properties. It has the most challenges to implement.
Tim _ want to push back – he said we were concerned with doctors and lawyers, and that might have been about my comment about he percentages. So, saying the only thing we need is lower income housing is imagining a world that didn’t exist. I’m trying to work real solutions for Brattleboro right now, and that includes a huge mix of housing needs.
Liz – the report clearly states housing is needed across the board. W contribute as much as we can to low income projects before us, but that’s the only housing being in created in Brattleboro right now.
Gary Stroud – hi guys. My last input. That survey was awesome. I’m ready to do the home buyer workshop. Lots of paperwork involved. It’s a process that is involved. Home ownership means a lot. Cooperative ownership – in NY they have coops and it feels good to have your own. I’ve been renting 14 years and am ready to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I’ve been watching the market – having fairness and diversity across the board is important. We see a great influx of people moving into Vermont. I check with realtors. It’s expensive. I’m taking that big nasty plunge. Windham Windsor has homebuyer courses. You need to be educated before investing.
Jessica – that homeownership course is fantastic, and 10 years ago I was on a waiting list for section 8 and nothing came through. The housing trust and USDA helped me get a house here. VT has the homestead and education tax rebates – another piece. I pay less than my rent was. Also, housing is aright not a commodity. It is tricky. One small town across the river had lots of tourists and the people who work there can’t afford to live in their town. We need investment in accessible housing. It is most important to spend dollars where the need is.
Ian – selectboard goals – could we incorporate these in sooner rather than later? Create 500 new units of housing? We could be more specific.
Liz – let them finish first…
Elwell – goals? you are 2/3 through this year and seriously, adjusting goals so near the finish line has a satisfying feeling but it isn’t realistically going to change the policies you pursue. Next year will be more specific about housing.
Liz – thank you both…
Bike Lane and Safety Improvements
I’m done for the night but there are a couple more items. They’re going to approve the RT 9 bike path lane from Exit 2 into downtown. They’ll also approve an LED stoplight for South Main/Canal Street.
(So much fun. Tell me how it tuns out… : ) )