Burlington City Council ward debate: UVM’s role in BTV housing

Emily Johnston

My main takeaway from the Feb. 21 Burlington Tenants Union City Council debate was that all candidates at the debate agree there is a housing crisis and they all agree UVM plays a role in this crisis.

I think UVM students and the campus itself play a large role in the politics of Burlington.

I often feel like the University demographic is ignored, since the campus is not spread out into every ward.

The candidates, Sharon Bushor, Zoraya Hightower, senior Jillian Scannell, Ryan Nick, Max Tracy, Brian Pine, Sarah Carpenter, Nate Lantieri, Karen Paul, Ali Dieng, Adam Roof and Jane Stromberg, were asked a series of questions about their thoughts on the housing crisis.

Not many strayed from the consensus that there are problems with housing and homelessness in Burlington.

However, agreement is not a bad thing. A big issue discussed was the role of UVM in raising rent prices.

Ward 4 candidate Sarah Carpenter argued UVM students should not be treated differently than other tenants.

“A tenant is a tenant,” Carpenter said. “UVM students are no different.”

I feel like this sentiment is accurate. It reflects the high costs of dorming and of the competitive housing market downtown.

Stromberg said there is an artificial inflation of housing prices in the downtown market.

Additionally, the City of Burlington should hold UVM accountable for this inflation.

Several candidates brought up the fact that UVM’s prices for dorms—a traditional double costing $8,501 per year, according to UVM’s Department of Residential Life’s website—raises the price of renting downtown artificially.

After students spend the required two years living on campus, they often choose to live off-campus.

This is for several reasons, but first and foremost it is usually cheaper to live off-campus, despite the high prices of renting apartments.

Another factor is the fact that there are fewer restrictions on what a student is allowed to do.

Burlington needs to take into account that the student market exists, and is separate from the residential market.

Stromberg also told a story about speaking to a tenant on College Street whose landlord told them to go up the street to Waterman Building and use the water services at UVM while they waited to have it fixed.

If landlords are taking advantage of students, and the University is increasing housing prices, it is time the city of Burlington and the University work together to fix the issues.

While the actual campus is only part of Ward 8 (Redstone, Athletic and Central campuses) and Ward 1 (Trinity campus), the impact is felt city-wide.

I feel that the candidates all understood this, yet I am unsure of what they will do about it.

Education and outreach were floated as the solution for several housing-related problems, but education and outreach are not the solution to systematic problems.

Holding the University accountable is one way to try and fix the housing crisis, but it will not fully fix it.

Unless both the city of Burlington and UVM commit to working together, the issues that affect both will not be solved.