Home News and Features Task Force Reviews City Housing Stock, Discusses ‘NIMBYism’

Task Force Reviews City Housing Stock, Discusses ‘NIMBYism’

image of row housing, brick exterior with blacktop parking lot
One of the Montpelier Housing Authority's aprartment buildings. Photo from Google.
The Housing Task Force will be updating the city council with data about the condition of Montpelier’s housing stock and relevant to the ongoing challenge of meeting the demand for affordable housing in the city. The report is scheduled to be presented in late May. 

At its virtual meeting on April 21, members of the task force and interested residents discussed the need for engaging current property owners about any new housing as early as possible in the planning process to convey facts about the project and prevent the complications that misinformation too often creates.

Current chairperson Polly Nichol, who has served on the task force since its formation in 1999, explained that the changes in economic conditions and the significant increase in the price of homes in the city during the past year make an update of the data in the report prepared last year necessary. Task force member Brian Evans, who did not attend the meeting, will take the lead in making the requested update.

Task Force to be Replaced by Permanent Committee

Nichol also anticipates that the task force will be replaced by a permanent Housing Committee in the near future. Montpelier resident Peter Kelman, former task force member, expressed concern that in light of upcoming opportunities for new housing developments, the Housing Committee needs to be established soon.

Kelman also pointed out that several current participants in the task force are representatives of area organizations that deal with housing. These include the Montpelier Housing Authority, which manages several hundred apartments in the city, both market rate and units subsidized under Section 8, and Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity. He encouraged seeking out the participation of individuals in the community who have housing and development experience and expertise.

Jack McCullough, liaison to the city council, noted that the Housing Task Force has not had a local home builder as a member in some time and that it would be important to have someone with that experience and perspective participating on the Housing Committee. The process of getting a Housing Committee up and running can be streamlined if the task force can assist with preparing a statement of mission and goals for the new committee, he suggested.

Task force member Carolyn Ridpath underscored the importance of establishing the new Housing Committee soon, because the city’s imminent purchase of the former Elks Club Golf Course and the expansion of Hubbard Park both have the potential for housing development.

What about NIMBYism?

Resident Diane Sherman opened the agenda item discussion about the use of the term ‘NIMBY’ (Not in My Back Yard), a widely used term to describe the resistance of property owners or a community to new development. “People use this term in a lot of different ways. We need to define the problem because it’s not clear when it is used in Front Porch Forum discussions,” she said.

Controversy has swirled about several potential housing developments in the city, most recently about the just-approved purchase of the 138 acre former Elks club by the city; the Habitat for Humanity plan for a housing development to the east of Northfield Street, across from the EconoLodge; and, for many years, about development proposals for Sabin’s Pasture above Barre Street.

Kelman commented that as the cost of housing has dramatically increased, “Housing has become more than a home. People are trying to protect their investment.”

“It’s fear of change,” said Ridpath. “For instance, I like walking up Liberty Street, enjoying the character of the neighborhood. There’s also a fear of bringing in a changing demographic.”

“It’s often a reaction that ‘It should be somewhere else,’ even as they acknowledge that it’s needed,” said Zach Watson, executive director of Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity. “Often the expressed reason for an objection has nothing to do with the reality of a project.”

When Kelman said, “We need to know what people are really afraid of, so it can be addressed,” Watson had a one-word reply: “Change.”

McCullough asked, “How do we involve people who aren’t already in the room?”

Nichol replied that “People appreciated the forum held about the city’s proposal to purchase the golf course. Communication is essential.”

“We have to bring people into a project as early as possible,” added Kelman. “The Mountainview [neighborhood] community concerns were not about the apartments on the Brown Derby site. It was about traffic. If people are not heard, they get their backs up.”

Sullivan said, “The term ‘NIMBY’ may not be helpful to us and may only confuse the issue. We need to avoid name calling.”

About the Housing Task Force

According to the City of Montpelier website, “The Montpelier Housing Task Force was organized in 1999 in order to gather and evaluate information regarding housing trends in the city, develop responses to housing concerns that are identified, and recommend housing policies to city government.

“Montpelier is experiencing the loss of residential opportunities and the lack of safe, decent, and affordable housing. We seek to preserve and enhance residential opportunities in Montpelier for households of all income levels. Working with community residents, city staff and elected officials, landlords, financial institutions and community organizations, we will:

  • Inventory existing housing stock and document changes in supply and demand in the city, keeping in mind that office and retail space is limited as well.
  • Gain a better understanding of the complex issues affecting the quantity and quality of the city’s housing.
  • Recommend activities to increase housing in the city;
  • Recommend strategies that protect against the loss of housing in the city; and
  • Increase the public’s participation in city housing issues.”