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Burlington to Perform Housing Needs Assessment on Town’s Affordable Housing Situation

After a vote of Town Meeting, there will be a study of Burlington’s affordable housing to help better plan for the future and ensure equality in the housing market.

The town’s legislative body voted to use $30,000 of the town’s Affordable Housing Fund to contract the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to perform a Housing Needs Assessment in town. The proposal was put forward by the Burlington Housing Partnership Committee (BHPC), which was formed roughly 30 years ago in response to a pair of 40B projects.

Now the mission of advocating for affordable housing in Burlingtons, holds lotteries for new affordable units and has recently renovated a single-family home on South Bedford Street to be sold to a first-time home buyer.

Committee Secretary Kerry Donahue, who also works at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, presented the warrant article to Town Meeting. She started by explaining what the committee means by affordable housing.

She said to think of affordable housing in two categories, capital “A” affordable housing and lowercase “a” affordable housing. Capital “A” affordable housing refers to public and/or subsidized housing. This type of affordable housing is the purview of The Burlington Housing Authority in town and includes Birchcrest Arms and Tower Hill Apartments and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Lowercase “a” affordable housing, what the committee works with, means housing that is affordable to someone making the median income of an area.

“The BHPC considers housing needs in Burlington with particular attention to housing opportunities that are affordable to residents of all incoming levels and abilities,” the committee’s charter reads

Donahue said the Affordable Housing Needs Assessment would help them better identify how best to focus the committee’s work and, if the town decides to create one, funds from a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust. She said to create this the MAPC would look at both hard data, including the 2020 Census, as well as conducting interviews with a wide-range of homeowners, potential buyers and renters.

“We want to make sure we hear from as many diverse people as possible and really understand our town’s affordable housing challenges,” she said.

Donahue said right now there are a lot of holes in their knowledge of the situation in town because an assessment like this has never been done in Burlington. However, they do know there are a lot of challenges facing homeowners and those wishing to buy a home.

“Here in Burlington, and across the US, there is a shortage of housing that is available and affordable to median-income Americans and we want to ensure that those who worked hard to live here can continue to do so comfortably and ensure that those who would like to live here have equal opportunity to do so,” she said. “It’s far more difficult to buy a house right now than it was 20, 10, even five years ago. Many of us lucky to own a home here in Burlington probably couldn’t afford to buy one if we sold our house. And rents have soared at the same time.”

Donahue said the assessment would also fill in smaller gaps of knowledge, including whether residents can live in town for years and then retire comfortably, whether children who grow up in town are likely to be able to afford a home in town and whether the housing is equitable.

“These are the sort of questions we have not dug into as a community and if we’re going to improve our housing we need to understand the issues,” she said.

Town Meeting members were supportive of the assessment and voted 75-14-5 to approve using the funds. These funds are from monitoring and developer fees and with agreements with developers. The $30,000 was a use of existing funds and not a new appropriation.