Vt. lawmakers look to cap UVM growth until Burlington’s housing can catch up

In a battle for more housing in Burlington, state lawmakers are looking to stop the University of Vermont from growing to allow the city to catch up on housing.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 4:53 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2023 at 5:20 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - In a battle for more housing in Burlington, state lawmakers are looking to stop the University of Vermont from growing to allow the city to catch up on housing.

“It was pretty stressful, but ultimately we did find a place. It’s definitely out of our price range but it’s all we could find,” said Samantha Molod, a sophomore at UVM.

Molod is getting ready to jump off campus for housing in her junior year. But the search process is tough; vacancy rates in Burlington hover around 2%.

“Every place was about $1,000 or more a month per person,” Molod said.

Burlington’s delegation to the state Legislature believes they have arrived at a solution to the city’s housing shortage-- a bill that would cap UVM’s enrollment at 5% until enough housing is built in the city to raise the vacancy rate to 5%.

“The number one solution that is presented to me to the housing crisis is getting UVM to look at its enrollment and are they being a responsible neighbor,” said Rep. Troy Headrick, P/D-Burlington.

He says the university’s growth in the last five years, adding more than 800 additional students to the Burlington ecosystem, isn’t sustainable for the city.

“This is asking UVM to take a beat, apply the brakes and talk about an enrollment plan while we talk about solutions,” Headrick said.

But some are concerned that capping UVM’s growth will only hurt the city at large.

“Capping UVM enrollment isn’t going to address we aren’t building housing, but also it will have a negative impact on the economic vitality of downtown,” said Kelly Devine of the Burlington Business Association.

UVM is attempting to add more on-campus housing, a maximum of 520 new beds for undergraduate and graduate students on their Trinity campus. But to get the go-ahead at Trinity, the city has asked the university to commit to a new housing agreement that locks UVM into the creation of more housing for additional students they enroll.

UVM has pushed back, saying in a statement, “UVM has shared its plans about undergraduate enrollment with the City and the public, making clear it does not intend to increase the number of new undergraduate students beyond the current level.”

The university also maintains it has created a fair amount of new housing for additional students since it last signed a similar housing agreement in 2009.

In a statement, Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, touted 11 years of good town-gown relations with UVM, but called their current position on the Trinity campus “untenable.” The mayor says “The University cannot simultaneously seek greater development of their Trinity campus and, amidst an acute housing crisis, abandon their decade-old commitment to a reasonable and fair housing agreement ... "

Back on campus, students say no matter how more housing pops up, they know it’s needed,

“I think everyone deserves a better shot than what we are getting right now,” Molod said.

Barring a new housing agreement, the city is withholding the zoning permit UVM needs to build the new housing on the Trinity campus.

UVM’s response to a bill that would cap enrollment was similar to the one issued in response to the city’s stance on the Trinity campus; they believe they are in the best position to determine enrollment levels and they are currently at the right size and have no plans for the growth of their undergraduate students.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger was asked whether he supports a cap and he did not respond. Democratic City Councilor Joan Shannon said she was unaware of that bill.

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