One of the biggest challenges facing our state is how to accommodate the production of new housing to meet the needs of Vermonters while protecting our historic and natural resources and the character of our communities. Municipalities that allow for only one type of housing, such as low-density single family homes, limit housing choices and may drive up housing costs. By allowing low, medium and higher-density housing – each in appropriate locations – communities can offer a wider range of housing options that meet the needs of everyone in the community.
There is growing evidence that a one-size-fits-all approach to development is failing to meet the demand for a greater variety of housing options. Within our communities there are individuals just out of college, young couples, families with school-age children, empty nesters and seniors. These different segments of our population, and individuals within each segment, are looking for condominiums with low maintenance, restored downtown buildings with historic character, neighborhoods close to school and single-family homes with backyards.
Many families moved further and further away from our historic centers in an effort to find homes in the suburbs that they could afford. These distances have grown in the past few years as housing costs have increased. The result has been a development pattern in Vermont with high economic, environmental, social and aesthetic costs. Moving out to the suburbs has also increased our reliance on cars – increasing time spent on the road and a larger percentage of household budgets needed to cover increasing transportation costs.
In 2001, American families spent 19.3¢ of every dollar of income on transportation. (Source: Transportation Costs and the American Dream. July 2003. A special report from the Surface Transportation Policy Project).
Smart growth encourages communities to plan for a variety of housing types, including apartments, condominiums, town houses, and single family homes. It allows for appropriate densities and housing diversity that meet the needs of a full range of Vermonters from diverse social and income groups.
For communities to achieve smart growth objectives, however, we must plan for, and design, more medium and high-density housing in and around our centers. Only then will we achieve our goal of protecting the environment, conserving energy, ensuring mobility and enhancing our communities.
In recent years, there has been resistance to higher density development and infill projects within our centers. When people hear the word “density” they often think of barracks-style public housing projects with high crime rates. However, well designed compact development can create more livable communities that preserve farm and forest land, support better air quality and create more walkable communities. Did you know that every time a neighborhood doubles in compactness, the number of vehicle trips residents make is reduced 20-30%? The result is less pollution, less traffic congestion and healthier residents.
Other common concerns include poor design, inadequate parking, lack of green space, and lack of privacy. Demographics may change this trend as the fastest-growing segments of Vermont’s population – seniors – are increasingly likely to live in a condo or town home within easy walk or bike ride to services.
Municipalities must understand these concerns and work to address them when integrating medium and high-density development into existing communities. Thus, design standards, links to nearby open space, landscaping, early neighbor participation are important tools to integrate in your bylaws. Time-proven design elements of traditional neighborhoods – such as narrow streets, front porches, mixed uses, and pedestrian orientation – contribute to the quality of our built environment while creating more housing options for community residents.
Did you know?
Vermont Housing Facts
- The median purchase price of a single-family home in Vermont in 2006 reached $197,000.
- A Vermont household would need an annual income of $66,000 to purchase that home. Sixty-seven (67) percent of Vermont’s households have incomes below that level.
(Source: Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Housing and Wages in Vermont, Vermont Housing Council and the Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign)
- Accessory Apartments
- Design Review Regulations
- Inclusionary Zoning
- Mixed Use Development
- Vermont Traditional Neighborhoods
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