BURLINGTON — At a Burlington Chamber of Commerce question-and-answer session on homelessness Tuesday, Burlington residents called for more action from the city on enforcement and housing.
Mayor Steve Sexton, who fielded questions alongside Police Chief Mike Luvera, said the meeting had been planned as a conversation about how homelessness affects local businesses, but questions ended up focusing on what local government is doing to address the problem.
One in attendance questioned why law enforcement can’t monitor Nextdoor, a neighborhood-level social media site, to stay on top of residents’ complaints regarding crime that may have been committed by the homeless.
In response, Luvera pointed to a lack of manpower. The Burlington Police Department is budgeted to have 27 officers, but because of trouble filling positions it currently has 20.
The best way to make police aware of an incident is to call and report it, he said.
Another resident asked if the city would consider capping rent increases to support housing affordability.
Sexton said the city has tried to maintain low impact fees, utility hookup fees and property taxes to keep development costs low, but he wasn’t interested in supporting price restrictions on housing.
Cheryl Treadway questioned why the city isn’t more allowing of higher-density construction, allowing more housing units per acre.
She said she was unable to get a permit for a modest mother-in-law apartment on her property because of a city policy banning them.
Sexton said the city’s density policies need to change, and these are the sorts of things the City Council and city staff are discussing as the city works to renew its Comprehensive Plan.
“Supply (of housing) is a bigger problem than anything else,” Sexton said.
In response to concerns that more housing will add people and will stress already-limited police resources, Luvera said density could actually free up officers.
He said if the homeless have a place to stay, they aren’t on the street having the police called on them, allowing the police to focus on other calls.
One homeless person in particular, he said, has caused about 40 calls to 911. The person is repeatedly released back on to the street because there is nowhere to put him.
“He’s a person in need of services,” Luvera said. “It’s grassroots things like this (meeting) that get people thinking about this.”