We Aren’t Going to Solve the Housing Shortage This Way

This is the site plan for Stonewall Meadows, a proposed new neighborhood in Montpelier. Need I say that this is a prime example of how to waste a whole lot of acreage and squander an opportunity to build smart on one of the city’s handful of available building sites?

This plan, of course, got a green light from the Development Review Board, so it’s full steam ahead for some nice, expansive backyards where there could have been more housing. This is especially galling since the developer originally proposed a “cottage cluster” type of neighborhood that would have provided twice as much housing as the approved plan. Here’s the original layout.

According to the Montpelier Bridge, the developer “switched tacks after a neighborhood meeting and sketch review with the city’s Development Review Board last fall.” The neighbors complained about the loss of an undeveloped area and expressed concern about increased traffic. In other words, NIMBY.

We have, in fact, an epidemic of NIMBYism in the capital city right now. The residents of College Hill, one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, is up in arms over the future of the campus that until recently housed the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It’s lovely to live near a college, especially one whose students are rarely on campus. Fine old buildings, an expansive green space, no dorms, no student housing, what’s not to like?

Well, VCFA is gone, and some of its buildings and/or space could be used to increase the city’s housing stock. Why not convert one or two of the structures into apartments or condos? Why not, cue the pearl-clutching, repurpose the green space?

The good people of College Hill have also been responsible for blocking proposed housing developments on the land they like to call Sabin’s Pasture. They like having open space in their backyards, and they’d rather not have to deal with more people and more traffic. They have effectively wielded veto power over Sabin’s, and I fear they’re going to do the same for the former college campus.

The city is also in the midst of discussions over what to do with the former Elks Club building and nine-hole golf course, Housing is an option for at least some of the land, which has sparked concern over — you guessed it — more traffic.

Meanwhile, Montpelier’s population is stagnant, taxes are high, its schools could use more students, and more city housing means less sprawl in the surrounding small towns. But the city is, according to one Chittenden County developer, “a no-growth” community where little housing has been built in recent decades.

Montpelier is far from alone in is anti-growth outlook. That developer has completely stopped building anywhere outside of Chittenden County because of higher costs, lower home values and the difficulty of getting approval for any kind of housing development.

Meanwhile, the state is desperately short of workforce and places where workers might live if they moved here. I’m not calling for high-rises and human habitrails across the landscape, not at all. But I do believe we need to get over ourselves and take a more communitarian, less selfish view of housing and development.

And if we were half as progressive and welcoming as we like to think we are, this wouldn’t be a hard thing to do.


5 thoughts on “We Aren’t Going to Solve the Housing Shortage This Way

  1. zim

    Its called the politics of liberal middle-class white affluence. Exclusionary zoning and a raft of other high regulatory and financial hurdles are constructed by the white PMC to exert control and limit access to the built environment in order to expand their wealth and protect their pathetic social world.

  2. JC

    Housing is a profitable business and profits are highest when supplies are low. There is no market incentive for developers to produce housing in sufficient quantities or at reasonable prices. Profit-seeking IS the crisis. NIMBYs are a distant second.

    1. zim

      Blaming developers is pure obfuscation.

      ‘NIMBYism’ a part of the complex strategy to constraint supply, keep prices high and exclude the unwashed from the ‘white metropolis’ city on the hill.

      Builders/developers are not the only ones seeking gains. Homeowners want to see gains in the value of their main investment. Town’s like high RE prices since it translates into higher tax revenues with less work. Insurance companies like to write policies on high value homes vs a ratty home in Barre. Realtors love high commissions – more money less work. Appraisers/property inspectors make more money on high value homes. Trades related businesses would rather work on a 1m home in Vergennes then a 100K home in Rutland. High RE values also police the community by driving the ‘riffraff’ out that spoil or drain away resources that the rich are ‘entitled’ to.

      The state loves high RE values as well as this translates into higher incomes to tax and larger transfer taxes on RE sales. Additionally, federal monetary policy is explicit in maintaining the illusion of prosperity by inflating RE values as a way of masking the decline in real prosperity for most people. It is also in keeping with the nations’ ethos of the unrelenting transfer of public wealth to the top 10% of the population.

      Finally, who do you think write the zoning rules for towns – poor working class people? Hardly. Who do you think dictates the design/construction of overpriced crapbox housing? Construction is a very powerful industry that creates the frames of reference that the professional managerial class use to control access to the built environment, to define what housing is and who gets its, etc.

      We could be building high quality, low cost dwellings in abundance but ‘society’ will not allow it – the key is understanding that this ‘society’ is exclusive and the bottom 90% do not belong to it.

      1. JC

        We’re not in disagreement. I only singled out developers for brevity. My view of the situation isn’t nearly as myopic.

  3. zim

    I would also add that I work in architecture and for the last year and a half I have been witnessing the wealthy in places like Middlebury, Vergennes, Charlotte, Stowe and other enclaves of wealth adding 10,000s of sq ft in additions to their already monstrous luxury homes – homes often only occupied by two or three people. They are soaking the trade and material resources, driving prices sky-high all while the Dems are kicking the poor to the curb and giving the finger to anyone not affluence, middle-class and white.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s