So. Prominent Chittenden County Landlord Stiffs Tenant. A story we’ve definitely heard before. But never with a twist like this one.
Jason Jacob Hinsdale, scion of the family development/property management firm. The tenant: Scrappy BIPOC-owned Little Morocco Café. The situation: Hinsdale has imposed a 150% 250% rent increase effective in August an increase he himself admits the market doesn’t justify.
The twist: Hinsdale’s wife, small-P progressive stalwart Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, one of Vermont’s handful of BIPOC electeds.
It will be interesting to see how both of them play this out. Hinsdale’s move isn’t unusual for a landlord in a red-hot market but it could be political poison for Ram Hinsdale. She figures to face embarrassing questions about her husband’s power play, and he figures to come under pressure to get his loyal spouse out of this dilemma by not kicking Little Morocco to the curb.
This is the three-dimensional realization of the conflict expressed in the above image: Ram Hinsdale trying to position herself as the progressive in the 2022 Democratic Congressional primary while speaking from the shiny, spotless, open concept kitchen of the suburban manse she now occupies.
It’s funny — no, it’s downright weird — that VTDigger’s story about this doesn’t mention Ram Hinsdale until [counting… counting… counting… ] the 18th paragraph. I mean, the Ram/Hinsdale connection is the most interesting aspect of this affair. Certainly it ought to be for a media outlet whose primary beat is state politics and government, not the Burlington dining scene.
The landlord/tenant dispute itself is a tawdry “he said, he said” tale which makes neither side look all that great. Café owner Ali Amrani depicts himself as a victim of a greedy racist landlord. Hinsdale depicts himself as the long-suffering victim of a bad tenant. There are twists and turns aplenty on both sides.
I do have to note, however, that Hinsdale is (according to Amrani) forcing a rent increase from $2,000 to $5,000 on the café when the landlord himself admits that it’s properly priced in the current lease. Seems like a sneaky way to avoid the eviction process, but then I’m not a landlord with a troublesome tenant in the very building where my company has its offices. Must make for some awkward passages in the hallway.
Hinsdale appears to have a new tenant all lined up, although said tenant is having second thoughts about succeeding a BIPOC family-owned establishment. Sam Nelis has submitted plans for his proposed watering hole and they’re on the city’s Development Review Board agenda for, um, this afternoon, but he’s now saying he’s “exploring different locations” and has made “no commitments to Hinsdale Properties or anyone else at this time.”
If Nelis realizes the situation is radioactive, then surely Ram Hinsdale must as well. She has retreated from the public eye due to complications of her pregnancy, which is a terrible thing but which does allow her to evade close questioning on the Hinsdale/Café imbroglio. (The Digger article doesn’t quote her or even indicate that its reporter contacted her for comment.) She may fall back on the “my spouse’s business is separate from mine” argument, and she’d have a point — but in politics, that argument can ring hollow.
The Little Morocco could very well become a community cause célèbre, in which case the Hinsdale property will be a real hot potato with the potential to burn husband and wife alike.
Ram Hinsdale is one of the brightest young lights in Vermont’s political scene. She’s accomplished a lot in her short political career, and has become a real power in the youth-averse Senate in spite of her lack of tenure. She has clearly positioned herself as a liberal/progressive champion. Fair or not, this is a real challenge for her, personally and politically.
As much as I respect your work, this article/ issue is a stretch in my opinion (I can’t/ don’t want to count the number of kitchens I have worked over the years). The number of failed restaurants is far more than the number of successes. Often family owned and operated are not to the level of professional managed enterprise. It would be interesting to get a customer opinion of Little Morocco and whether it would survive else where. I do agree the 150% rent increase is a passive-aggressive shitty landlord move but I don’t see it having a negative effect on Ram-Hinsdale’s political career.
Look, Ram is playing at the progressive edge of the basic Clinton Democrat playbook that rules Vermont. This may make her look so so left compared to the powers that be, but she’s still a Democrat at heart. Put simply and directly, she would not have made ‘such rapid progress’ in Vermont politics if she was any sort of real challenge to the existing status quo. I know, you’ll pull out this and that statement or legislation to show how edgy she is, but in a place with real politics, not the gentleman/woman farmer schtick in Vermont she’d be seen clearly for what she is.
And look at who she is marrying and how they are living. When someone tells you who they are, believe them.
To follow up on my earlier comment, it does appear Little Morroco has its fans which is great. I still stand by my general opinion regarding restaurants (very difficult business that benefits from professional management)
and, again, it is a passive-aggressive shitty landlord move on Hinsdale’s part. Would we be having this discussion if he had just chosen to not renew the lease?
Not directed towards anyone specific, I do think it is hypocritical to draw Ram-Hinsdale in to her husband’s property management on behalf of Little Morroco while (probably) rightly condemning the acts of a Ginni & Clarence Thomas. Too wordy but whatever…
Her husband’s business is her husband’s business. If her husband is treating a tenant poorly that is a reflection on him.
Similarly, I don’t think any vote or political position by Ram Hinsdale is a reflection on her husband.
“She figures to face embarrassing questions about her husband’s power play, and he figures to come under pressure to get his loyal spouse out of this dilemma by not kicking Little Morocco to the curb.
“This is the three-dimensional realization of the conflict expressed in the above image: Ram Hinsdale trying to position herself as the progressive in the 2022 Democratic Congressional primary while speaking from the shiny, spotless, open concept kitchen of the suburban manse she now occupies.
“It’s funny — no, it’s downright weird — that VTDigger’s story about this doesn’t mention Ram Hinsdale until [counting… counting… counting… ] the 18th paragraph. I mean, the Ram/Hinsdale connection is the most interesting aspect of this affair. Certainly it ought to be for a media outlet whose primary beat is state politics and government…”
You miss an important point, John: Kesha Ram Hinsdale chairs the powerful House committee on Commerce & Community Development, and is the lead sponsor on S. 100–a developers’ bill that intends to over-ride environmental regulations and local permitting to favor more faster new development with
(and this is important) no assurances for either affordability or minimizing carbon emissions.
So, in addition to rolling back local democratic planning processes and ecological protections–when intact ecosystems are the first line of defense against extreme weather–the bill as initially proposed would also have removed state oversight of wastewater permits; with total disregard for either the essential engineering expertise of the state, the limited capacity and conflict of interest of municipalities, and the storm water/ wastewater overflow issues that already challenge many Vermont communities each time we have a hard rain; not even to mention the facts behind Vermont’s permitting process (which are not redundant–the various permits, that is).
So whether or not Ms. Ram Hinsdale has her hands directly in the displacement of a small ethnic restaurant is only partially the issue at hand. This situation clearly illustrates how it is THE MARKET at the roots of our so-called affordable housing crisis and related issues of justice and equity people like to talk about. And it is the MINDSET of large-scale developers and those who invest in Vermont’s housing for profit that tend to over-ride the basic concept that, in the FIRST place, Housing is a Human Right.
To solve problems we need to go to the roots of the problems. And there are at least a few initiatives in Vermont that will begin to bring on more affordable housing (subsidies for homeowners to add ADUs and attached “mother-in-law style apartment units, as recently reported by Seven Days, is one).
S. 100 is not one of them. This developers’ bill–promoted heavily by powerful and moneyed interests–will exacerbate numerous problems as eluded to above; and for the benefit of for-profit investors and developers similarly reflective of the dilemma of “Little Morocco,” when powerful individuals prioritize profit and ease above others with genuine community values, but limited capital. I don’t think Mrs. Ram Hinsdale can wash her hands of these perceptions.
“(N)ot kicking Little Morocco to the curb” would be a good start.
Withdrawing most of S. 100 would be another good step.