Selectboard Meeting Notes – Brattleboro’s Severe Housing Crisis

selectboard march 15 2022

The Brattleboro Selectboard heard details of the Windham Regional Commission’s past year work as well as an overview of Brattleboro’s new Housing Action Plan, which tells us that Brattleboro is in a housing crisis. 500 units or more are needed immediately just to catch up with current needs. More if Brattleboro want to grow.

Peter Elwell and Steve Barrett were both commended for their years of municipal public service, the Brewer’s Fest got their annual permit, and liquor on town property rules are being tweaked.

Comments | 8

  • Preliminaries

    They get started late.

    (There is also a RTM message on the zoom chat…)

    Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin – We have ceremonial duties. I ask that Peter Elwell and Steve Barrett join us up here. (they assemble). Our state delegation – Rep Burke, Kornheiser and Toluene, plus balling and White have these concurrent house resolutions for you, complimentary framing by Zephyr. There are many Whereases. (She reads it…). Elwell is honored for outstanding municipal public service. Similarly – Steve is honored for starting his career in high school and promoted to department head after many years of service. 25 years of overseeing the town’s infrastructure. Barrett is honored for his outstanding municipal public service.

    Molly Burke – thanks for all you’ve done.

    Steve B – thank you, it is appreciated. It was a good tour. My wife is here tonight. A lot of this is because of her.

    Elwell – joy to work with you and others. Reflect on the meaning of 46 years of service to the community.

    Liz – Chair’s remarks. I just have a remark. I was really happy to see the members of the DPW removing storm debris from the store drains, and the street sweepers are coming. Thanks to DPW for helping with water quality. Can the public help?

    Dan Tyler – just be patient. Lots of debris this year.

    Daniel Quipp – and we may get more snow storms.

    Yoshi Manele – No comments…

    Patrick Moreland – no comments…

    Liz – new RTM members should check their emails.

    Tim Wessel – my wife is a new town meeting rep and she watched Andy Davis’s primer and I appreciated that. It’s recorded and very helpful.

    Liz – RTM can see it on BCTV soon.

    Daniel – the RTM page on the website is more visible these days and easier to get the stiuff you need to. For town meeting members who want to learn more, it is easily accessible now. The informational session last Wednesday will be on BCTV and if folks have questions, there is time to reach out and I hope we have a good an efficient RTM on Saturday.

    Ian Goodnow – Patrick or Yoshi – if I wasn’t an RTM rep, how to access it.

    Patrick – watch BCTV, or call in tot he meeting using the telephone numbers on the annual report, and potentially the moderator will call on you. The report is at the town manager’s office, on the webpage and at the library…

    Liz – can’t miss it.

  • Liquor Commissioners

    Yoshi – Hilary should be here…

    Patrick – she can’t be with us. This is the annual application for the Brewer’s Festival put on the the Four Season’s Media. Kelli Corbeil is in charge. She does a great job making sure the event is put on safely and have no other concerns or issues.

    Kelli – This year , so it is Memorial Day weekend and it is our 10th year. We have three bands, quite a few Vermont brewers, and from surrounding areas. We have a winemaker that will be there. I hope everyone can make it. Tickets are online. It’s a good event for the town, brings a lot of people in.

    Liz – 10 years – that’s to be congratulated.

    Tim – they do a great job. I have tickets already.

    Daniel – in advance of the liquor license…

    Festival permit approved.

  • Windham Regional Commission

    Yoshi – Sue Fillion and Tom M will be on to provide an annual report.

    Sue Fillion + Tom Mosakowski

    Tom – good to be here. I’ll give a synopsis of what it is. The WRC core program is to assist towns on planning and zoning, regional plans, transportation, community development, brownfield, block grants, energy issues, project review, mapping, hazards… the overall structure you are aware of. The full commission meetings and the project review committee topics of the last year – with hydro relicensing, in the past year it has been a lot of delays and negotiations so nothing new with that. Kathy Urffer of CRC says we may want to think about staff or committee help to draft comments. This is facing continual delays. The next thing was the regional broadband project. DV Fiber, with 24 member towns. It got funding from ARPA and has chosen the company – great works internet of Maine to design the network and do the engineering for the phase 1 towns – the unserved towns. The regional plan has been readopted with no major changes for another 2 years. There were covid complications and new employees, so it made sense to put off the major update. The VT climate action plan was discussed. The plan was completed and will be updated every 4 years. I was on the project review committee reviewing development projects, like ACT 250 and section 248 projects. If they have regional importance we weigh in. There wasn’t much in Brattleboro. The closest thing was the Maple Valley Ski area in Dummerston may become a brewery and distillery. Other than that, there were preferred sites for solar siting, and some discussions and review of Mt Snow and the rprojects. Kind of a slow year with that committee. Questions?

    Liz – thank you for being on the commission for many years.

    Sue – I was following up on my committee works and some programs and things for Brattleboro. I’m on planning coordination committee. We review town plans and make recommendations. Given COVID and the state being lenient on expiration dates, we reviewed one plan – Stratton. We didn’t meet very often. We talked about training. Small towns have trouble finding volunteers. Browfield Steering Committee is pretty active. They make recommendations to spend money on assessments and cleanup. There were about 6 sites in Brattleboro including one the town was involved with – the Archery Building. The funded the corrective plan and historic review. There were some private properties that got testing. They also worked at 47 Flat street – the Sanel building – that will be redeveloped with housing and office space. BMAC got some help with corrective action planning. For loan assistance, they assisted NEYT tear down and old building that had a tarp on it. WRC still has assessment funds. Brattleboro is well covered with assessment needs. They also got ARPA funds to top things off. Specific to Brattleboro, WRC does pedestrian counts in downtown Brattleboro. In 2021 they assisted us with the crosswalk study. A new project is an online agricultural lands database in GIS. That’s getting updated. And then … there’s still a bit of Hinsdale Bridge project work, and resting the old bridge. They did some housing webinars about addressing housing issues. Also technical assistance for trail development throughout the region. The WRC has a budget of $1.5 million and 7% comes from town assessments. For 2020, Brattleboro pays about $29k… questions?

    Liz – thanks

    Tim – it is related. The current status of the youth theater property. Is there any further progress that will occur?

    Sue – I know they took down the building and have some ideas for open space use. The rest of the building is a pretty big challenge to clean up. To tear it down, the disposal costs are too much, and to re-use it there need to be more studies of what to do with the contaminated brick. No plans at this time I know of to redevelopment. There are probably sources of funding once they know what the use will be .

    Tim – time for another paint job.

    Sue – Appointment to WRC are one year appointments. Planning dept and planning commissioners or selectboard, usually.

    Tom – It was a rewarding 3 years… maybe time for some other people to get involved. There is interest from planning commissioners.

    Liz – I enjoyed my time doing it. Our action tonight would be to appoint one and announce a vacancy for the second appointment. Appoint Sue and open the other up…

    moved and approved. Sue Fillion reappointed and a vacancy is open.

  • Housing Plan – Presentation

    Sue Fillion – I have a couple of slides to share. There are members of the planning commission here tonight. Dan, Doran, Gary, and Tom. The Housing Action Plan is finalized and I hope you can endorse it so we can use it. We envision it will be used by partners in the community. It doesn’t require and approval, but I’d like and endorsement. It addresses housing needs for all populations, barriers, and opportunities. IT is key to economic health, but housing has remained low. We have a severe housing shortage, with rising rates and substandard housing and living arrangements. We have an estimated for over 500 units immediately. This plan has 4 areas – the goals are… I won’t go through all the data and the findings. What I want to focus on is the strategies. The plan recognizes a strong unmet demand that the private market can’t meet. It doesn’t address any migration. In the demand analysis, if more housing was available more people might move her, but it doesn’t account for refugees. 500 is a conservative number. We hope the housing… to achieve this plan it will require some changes in our existing plans. We need to facilitate more housing development , pursue more funding, have an increased presence in the housing realm, and addressing housing issues as a Town. The plan came from staff, pubic, committee members so we hope we have buy-in from all.
    The first goal.. there are four plus some tactics.

    The first goal is to work with developers to increase supply of quality and diverse housing. Need to do a study to find sites, attract a developer for senior housing to open up some existing housing, pursue a housing cooperative development project and homeownership opportunities, and support and encourage developers to meet needs.

    Second goal is create new funding sources and strategies to rehab existing affordable and middle income housing. Establish a new community housing opportunity fund, advocate for a pre-development loan program, pursue permanent funding stream for rental rehabs, and utilize new/existing revenue sources for housing projects. Fund the rental housing improvement fund better.

    Third goal is to Support resident in their efforts to find and retain quality housing. How do we help people who live her? The Town could create a housing specialist to help, community dashboards to track data, a virtual housing office, measure return on investment. We could do contractor oversight to prevent poor quality work. The rental housing deposit ordinance was something to help residents and there has been discussion about evaluating it and seeing how it is working. I was hoping to get that into this report to you. It’s … we’ve talked about how we can track the effectiveness. The market is so whacky right now. There was an eviction moratorium, housing prices have gone up. We could do a survey but that would be anecdotal. We had about 2 complaints over the last year. One was someone disagreeing with it, and one was a question about extending lease. Haven’t heard many questions about it.

    The fourth goal is to create an implementation framework by monitoring housing issues, communicating needs, building capacity, and collaborating non solutions with partners. We need to update land use regs, we need public education and conversations around housing. We need a short term rental registration program. Address housing industry labor related issues (having enough labor…), and work regionally to address housing issues. Maybe we address speculation a bit. And fire safety plan review to reduce costs for property owners. Some of the fees can be tens of thousands and it is state review… we can do that in-house and be revenue we make. It would reduce some red tape for developers of big projects.

    The plan is on the town website. Look at it and reach out if you have questions.

    Liz – that was great. Thanks for steering it to completion. There is tremendous interest by staff, board and the public. This will remain active. It won’t be left on the shelf. It has a clear blueprint of action, for you and others. 500 units is a tremendous goal, just for existing needs.

    Ian – thanks for the presentation. A big question coming up will be spending ARPA money. Reviewing the study, I gravitate toward strategy 2a and 2d where I could see ARPA funds going. Do you have an opinion on ARPA funding? (Pg 25 and 26 of the full report.)

    Sue – I think finding funding sources.. the two you point out are important ones. Having a fair amount of money to seed something would be a good investment. Some of the rest are more programatic, like finding infill sites, or regional, like addressing labor issues. We’d like to have pre-permitted accessory dwelling buildings (pre-designed structures). ARPA could be useful there too.

    Liz – our charge is to accept this report. Maybe the next step would be to come to us with recommendations.

    Yoshi – yes, I’m just excited about it.

    Daniel – I’m pleased we have the leadership in the planning dept. It’s a small department and a great deal of work suggested by this. To build 500 units immediately… it’s huge. The board wants to do everything it its power to make that happen. I see a lots of ways to spend staff time. Maybe some way to carve a path… if we endorse 500 units appearing out of thin air, I want to commit to a goal at that level, thinking big. I’m excited to find a path through it all. It is a lot to process. I want to be an active partner in this. It is all of our job to make this happen, with a sense of urgency.

    Liz – an implementation plan…

    Tim – I have a prepared statement. But about goals and strategies – they were very helpful. I urge board members to look at these as priorities and weighting. There is only so much capacity we have to do this, so we should look also to see how much weight we should give each one and what is most efficient. We have some funds and limited capacity. My statement.. Brattleboro is about to see exciting investments from outside sources. A new bridge will give us a new walking and touring destination, a new train station, better downtown traffic control. People will want to move here and developers will want to supply them with homes. Putney Rd will be more desirable and can handle more housing. We can increase the density of downtown with accessory dwelling units and more apartments in homes. The Town can help make more housing happen. I suggest we commit half of the ARPA funds to help fix our housing problem. Let’s take this once in a lifetime opportunity to create more housing.

    Yoshi – Sue and I will site down with Patrick and others and look at things. We’ll plan for a plan.

    Liz – no pressure, just 500 units. We have authorized the planning dept to start making policy shifts. Thanks very much!

    Kurt Daims – hello. I have a few comments about the plan, but first, a reminder there is a measure by BCS to control rents and evictions that has been in your mailbox for over a year. Time to consider rent and eviction control. Besides that, we’re focusing too much on new construction. It’s a box we’re stuck in, distracting us from short term emergency solutions. We could allow variances on zoning laws.. just temporarily suspend some of them so people can rent out existing rooms. Allow them to build tiny homes and rec vehicles as separate units on properties. Suspend the parking requirements. All of these could be done on paper and would create hundreds of new units. Think out of the box.

    Liz – the planning dept is making land use changes and changes have been made and there is discussion of rehabbing existing units. There is a lot to be considered in the report.

    Doran Hamm – member of planning commission and district 1 rep. Thanks for hearing the report. I encourage you to endorse the report. As a low income renter, I ask you to go further with aspects of this report. Half of all renters pay 30% to their rent shows how dire things are, especially for low income renters. So let’s not go backwards. Let’s look at price gouging and rent caps. Rent keeps going up. People getting squeezed the hardest are the low income renters. Don’t squeeze them out of Brattleboro.

    Daniel – Sue, can you speak to some of these points? We’ve heard talk of rent control, and if we don’t have info now that’s fine. Are we able to implement rent control policies?

    Liz – I’ve asked Bob. The Dillon rules strikes again. We currently do not have authority to implement rent caps or stabilization. Somewhere in some bill this year there is some discussion of that at the state level.

    Daniel – didn’t want it to be left hanging there. No one on the board want to make harder conditions than what exist.

    Tim – I think you know both commenters… neither of them… it is easy to forget when we think about high rents and low wages… it’s not higher than most areas in the US, but relative to wages – the rental ordinance we did lead to a rise in rents, I think, but there is no good data yet. Neither acknowledged the number one issue – supply and demand… there isn’t the supply we need. We can build new, refurbish existing, but not get too distracted on little bandaids, but we can focus on increasing supply…

    Liz – and there is also higher wages needed

    Ian – won’t get into the ordinance – but it is an all hands on deck moment. I hear what Kurt is saying and I think it is in the study. It’s a crisis in the community. Not sure if it should be half, but the ARPA funding is important.

    Kurt – thanks for bringing this up. Rent control isn’t just Dillon’s rule. That was an early objection. It can be addressed as a charter amendment, and can be addressed as an emergency matter. The rental ordinance… (gets cut off)


    Sue – I think we lost the selectboard…

    Doran – I’ll go. I want to say that slo the idea of getting rid of last months security made rents go up is ridiculous. We got dozens of people thanking us for that proposal. It affected dozens of renters in the community.

    Patrick – Sue says we have an audio problem,.

    Sue – you are back now…

    Liz – we didn’t hear you Doran..

    Doran – when discussing the housing proposal, rents did not go up because of getting rid of last months security. It’s ridiculous. We got dozens of emails thanking us. people who could pay their rent and eat due to this change. Getting rid of the rental proposal… Tim you didn’t mention wanting poor people to move here. We want all to move here.

    Tim – I never implied we should overturn that ordinance. I’m convinced it did impact rents. We need to wait for some actual evidence.

    Kurt – I understand I got cut off. I want to make my point. Bob, the town atony, is not infallible. He’s been wrong many times in legal quibbles with BCS. Rents control can be a town charter amendment.

    motion to endorse the plan endorsed!

  • Financial Report

    Yoshi – the monthly financial report for your review…

    Patrick – the financial statements reflect 2/3 of the fiscal year. With each of the three funds we’re pretty much on schedule, or slightly better. We have $325k for additional grants and loans, and 26 active grants and 5 in the application process.

    Liz – created non discrimination testing of plans? #3 of Kim’s memo…

    Patrick – I’d be making it up if I gave you an answer and will get back to you.

    Daniel – I saw there is an upcoming event that already happened about retirement plans (here’s what I found, says his watch). Municipal retirement?

    Patrick- most employees are in the municipal pension program, or employees who chose to transition. Some chose to stay in old Lincoln plan. Employees can some defer some earnings into a 457 plan. So we work with Richards and Lincoln.

    Yoshi – we talked about other options for the plan, re: the allocation of the funds in the plan.

  • Prohibition of Alcoholic Beverages on Town Property – First Reading of Proposed Ordinance Amendment

    Yoshi – this is a change that came from discussions with DBA and Gallery Walk, and issues about alcohol consumption and selling on public land. Patrick has worked on a solution.

    Patrick – this is a first reading of proposed changes, relating to section 16-17 exceptions. It currently provides that says you can’t have an open container on a public land or consume on public land, but there is an exception. It’s bizarre. Town staff can hold an event that has alcohol on town property. We’ve never done it and never will, so let’s eliminate the exemption. One exemption is worthwhile for events like Gallery Walk… they close a street or parking lot and organizers would like to have space for a beer truck or a producer of winer or spirits to do samples on public property. We came up with language that says for permitted events by Town that already received a license for special events or catering, then we’d allow it on public property. If the board would like this to move forward, let’s permit Gallery Walk to plan for this in May, since this ship has already sailed. We permitted Hermit Thrush to do beer sales in the High Grove parking lot. We already allow it, so we’d codify what we already permit.

    Tim – I think it is fine, but a couple of rubs. In the Kiwanis shelter they could serve beer?

    Patrick – if they have a DLC permit. If you have a family party and hire a licensed establishment to cater it, they could serve wine or beer. Couldn’t just bring a keg and have a party.

    Tim – that’s a positive. A wedding reception would work better. Hermit Thrush comparison is slightly different, since it was due to COVID and trying to help them. This is a bit of an expansion into public property.

    Daniel – so, in order for someone to serve alcohol on town property, they need a license and permit form DLC (yes)

    Ian – so the difference for Gallery Walk, the Whetstone truck might be out on the street. (yes). Is there a way to codify what they are doing with a year round permit.

    Patrick – this would provide cover for that. Planning Dept wants a more structured parakeet program this summer. Our first round was quick and it struggled a bit, but more structured program would be a good idea.

    Daniel – open container laws… remind me.

    Liz – there is take out… it continues to exist. Buy it and take them home.

    Ian – that’s a state thing.

    Daniel – just wanted to check…

    Patrick – take away cocktails – the intention was to take them home, not for walking around with a martini. The types of permits here require a perimeter and ID’s being checked and so on.

    (They read the amendment out loud)

    First reading accomplished!

  • Final 2 items

    Annual Organizational Meeting – Monday, March 21, 2022, at 6:15pm at the Central Fire Station and on Zoom

    Committee appointments: Lars Hasselblad Torres to the Arts Committee and Kevin Hamilton to the Agricultural Advisory Committee as ex officio non-voting member.


  • town attorney is wrong, selectboard is dawdling re rents and evictions

    About the delay of rent-and-eviction controls proposed by Brattleboro Common Sense (BCS)
    First, I did note that the town attorney has been wrong on some important matters; a recent example: he thought the Youth Vote Amendment was illegal, and he was wrong. But let’s suppose the attorney is right about Dillon’s Rule preventing an ordinance: I argued that the controls could be a charter amendment, and Dillon’s Rule would not apply.
    2. Another reason to delay was the rental survey. But why should that stop anything ? It shouldn’t.
    3. The rent-and-eviction controls were submitted over a year ago. There were objections that were addressed in turn.
    4. Look at the way we treat emergencies. For COVID we improvise mask ordinances and school closings. For the housing shortage there are studies and delays.
    5. I think the rent-and-eviction controls could be an emergency ordinance (section AA of selectboard powers).
    Thank you, Mr. Quipp, for your concern.


Leave a Reply