The biggest problem facing Burlington is a shortage of housing, which has empowered landlords to raise rents and evict low-income tenants. The biggest problem facing our planet is carbon emissions, which have led to a climate emergency that threatens human civilization as we know it. These problems are related, and I’m running for City Council because I believe that our municipal government must act much more aggressively to address both.


Our current leadership, including our city’s executive branch and legislature, represents the interests of wealthy Burlingtonians. These are the wealthy few who own houses, navigate the city in private vehicles, and experience our current crisis of affordability only as observers of its accompanying social disorder – needles on the sidewalk and unhoused people on Church Street. The current leadership has no substantive solutions because they are the problem: they intend to spend the rest of their lives reaping the benefits of subsidized fossil fuels for heating and transportation, scarcity-induced property appreciation, and politicians’ willingness to underinvest in social services and public infrastructure.


We envision a Burlington of abundant housing, robust mass transit, and a dense, thoughtfully designed, community-oriented urban fabric that prioritizes students, workers, pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders. It would mean giving up exclusionary neighborhoods, underutilized parking spaces, and, for landlords, the ability to charge exorbitant rents for poorly maintained residential units.


The first step to creating more housing is legalizing its construction. That means changing our land-use regulations to allow taller buildings and more dwelling units per acre, especially near workplaces, bus lines, and colleges. Recently, the mayor has taken a few cautious steps in this direction, but his proposed program of“missing middle” reforms, which intends to promote the development of triplexes and townhomes, relies on the notion that new housing shouldn’t fundamentally change the character of the existing neighborhood, as defined by its current residents – such as the millionaires whose quiet rows of single-family residences on South Prospect Street, East Avenue, and Mansfield Avenue form a low-density buffer between working Burlingtonians and the state’s largest job center.


Workers and students at the University of Vermont and the University of Vermont Medical Center should be able to walk to work from high quality affordable housing– and, from there, to a grocery store or a coffee shop. The area around these institutions could support not only large apartment buildings but also commercial facilities. But under our current leadership, institutions such as the 650-member Burlington Country Club are allowed to occupy hundreds of acres of nearly tax-free urban land within walking distance of the University of Vermont under the protection of our city’s zoning ordinance. As a City Councilor, I will fight for mixed-use zoning that will put affordability and walkability over mere continuity in a built environment shaped by class stratification and its attendant monoculture, recognizing that we all have a right to our city.


A more efficient development pattern would yield not only a reduction in carbon emissions but also more tax revenue, allowing us to build up the public realm. We need more dollars coming into our Housing Trust Fund to create permanently affordable homes, more dollars for our Department of Permitting and Inspections to ensure tenants stay safe and warm inside weatherized units, more dollars to support Green Mountain Transit’s bus service, and more dollars for a Department of Public Works that, someday, should have enough manpower to pick up our trash (thereby eliminating private haulers’ duplicative truck routes), keep our bus stops shoveled and our sidewalks ice-free in the winter, and construct our redesigned streets without having to hire expensive contractors.


I’m a Democratic Socialist, but I know we can’t add as many apartments as Burlington immediately needs without relying on profit-driven developers of market-rate housing. That doesn’t mean we can’t work at the same time toward a long-term vision of a world without landlords. In 2015, Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office helped the tenants of what is now the North Avenue Cooperative turn their mobile home park into a resident-owned community when the owner put the property up for sale, offering grants and technical assistance. As a City Councilor, I would introduce a resolution to institutionalize this model, making sure that renters have an opportunity to form housing cooperatives whenever a multifamily building appears on the market. 


I also believe that the Burlington Housing Authority could do more than hand out Section 8 vouchers and maintain existing properties. Without additional federal funding, Maryland’s Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County has managed to develop new, mixed-income public housing. Let’s tell the new mayor, who appoints the BHA’s board, to give it a try here.


All over the city, we must aggressively target opportunities for infill construction, including municipal parking lots. We could reserve these city-owned sites for social housing, potentially working in tandem with the Champlain Housing Trust.


Current Burlington residents deserve a more livable city, but we shouldn’t aim to resolve the housing shortage by restricting demand. If we expect our city to remain a vibrant site of political and cultural experimentation, we must always welcome new renters, workers, students, immigrants, and refugees with open arms.


The next revolution will, above all, be ecological, and Burlington should be its vanguard. As a City Councilor, I will work to strengthen our inadequate carbon-impact fee, ensuring that large and small buildings alike move away from natural gas heating, and to curtail expansion plans at our city-owned airport while advocating for faster, more frequent trains to New York City and new rail connections to Montreal and beyond. I will push our municipally owned electric utility to invest as much as possible in clean energy generation and storage.


I will also urge the rest of City Council’s Progressives to take a more active role in accelerating the realization of the 2017 planBTV Walk Bike map. We can’t continue to sit back and passively evaluate new projects according to the mayor’s timeline, whoever they may be – we have to raise our voices and demand lane reductions on overbuilt city streets and more bicycle infrastructure now. We should directly set standards for bike lanes that include bollards or other protections to ensure that even novice cyclists have the confidence to commute by bike, and we must insist on a speedy design and approval process that doesn’t bake in a year’s worth of NIMBY-dominated “stakeholder meetings” or parking replacement planning.

Vermont state law places strict limits on what its cities can and can’t do on their own, and there are a lot of good policy ideas – including rent stabilization and a municipal minimum wage – that, unfortunately, can’t happen without facing a veto from Gov. Scott. Political conditions in Montpelier can change, however, and we should continue to look at potential charter changes that would open up new ways for us to address our problems on the city level.


But there’s a lot we can do already. Burlington has its problems, but a better world is still possible. It starts with a focus on People & Planet Over Profit.

Recent responses