A Range of Housing Options
Traditional Vermont neighborhoods across the state have many buildings that look like large single-family homes that actually contain several apartments, or perhaps a business on the first floor and a couple of apartments upstairs. In recent decades, zoning has tended to separate uses, with one area for multi-family housing, one area for single family housing, one area for commercial uses, etc. This separation of uses fundamentally changes the character of communities and the quality of life of their residents. Although it may seem “messy” to have different types of uses on one street, it is convenient for people walking to work, shopping, school or transit; and it is good for property owners because it lets them respond to the market by turning a building from single to multi family, renting two rooms to a law firm, turning it back into a single family house again, and so on. This flexibility is one reason why so many buildings in old village centers have remained viable and occupied since the early 1800s. There is no reason why new streets and buildings cannot have the same flexibility.
Different housing types also allow a community to meet the needs of residents and serve people of different stages of life and varied income levels. Most young people rent apartments for a few years while they find jobs, or finish their education, and they tend to move frequently. At the same time, retired people and empty-nesters often want to downsize. In a community with a variety of housing options (life-cycle housing), they can do this without leaving their neighborhood too far behind. Kids can bike over to Grandma’s apartment, or visit their older brother a few blocks away.
Providing for different income levels is also important. Many affluent suburbs agonize over the fact that there is no place for teachers, firefighters, waiters and nurses to live. Small Vermont also struggle with this issue, but the availability of apartments and varying sized homes helps provide for safe housing for all members of the community.
Your community should consider some of the following techniques for maintaining a variety of housing options:
- Allow multi-unit structures on the same size lot as a single family house. Requiring larger lots for multi-family dwellings limits the flexibility to change a building’s use.
- Permit garage apartments and granny flats. (Tool: Accessory Apartments)
- Allow mixed use buildings such as stores or offices with apartments above.
- Use creative parking options such as shared parking which allows the same parking space count for a business that is open during the day and adjacent apartments where residents park mainly at night.
- Permit on-street parking.
- Require developers to provide different housing types close to each other or intermingled.