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Bill would cap UVM's student body until there are more Burlington apartments for rent

A photo of brick buildings seen from up high, with a cloudy sky in the background.
Taylor Dobbs
Vermont Public File
A proposed bill in the Vermont House would cap the number of students that can enroll in the University of Vermont until the rental vacancy rate in Burlington hits 5%.

A new bill aims to hold the University of Vermont accountable for its role in Burlington’s housing crisis.

Burlington’s rental vacancy rate is less than 2%, and one of the lowest in the country.

At the same time, UVM's enrollment has risen and on-campus housing is only guaranteed for freshmen and sophomores. That leaves thousands of students to search for off-campus housing, which puts pressure on the city's rental market.

Rep. Troy Headrick, a Progressive/Democrat who represents Chittenden County, has introduced a bill that would hold the university to enrollment numbers as of July 2023 until the rental vacancy rate reaches 5%.

"We have to convince UVM to stop increasing enrollment because we do not have the rental market that can sustain any additional influx," he said. "It's impacting everybody. It impacts local businesses, it impacts UVM’s ability to recruit and retain staff.”

Bed in a dorm room.
Ben Greenes
Vermont Public
A dorm room at the University of Vermont. According to UVM, the university can house about 5,700 students in nine residential complexes.

Headrick’s bill also aims to improve housing conditions. It would require the university to provide each student with 93 square feet of living space.

All of the co-sponsors of bill, H. 311, are from Burlington.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for UVM pushed back on the bill's provision to cap enrollment, saying, "[W]e believe the university is in the best position to determine the enrollment level that serves the needs of our students and allows us to fulfill our land grant mission for the benefit of Vermont," but went on to add UVM has no plans to increase undergraduate enrollment at this time.

"Low housing inventory has persisted in our region for decades," the statement said. "We are aware of the problem and its impact on our students, faculty, staff, and members of the community, and are eager to do our part to contribute to solutions in Chittenden with other local entities."

The university is in the process of creating more housing, with plans to build around 500 new beds in South Burlington. UVM has also been in talks with the city to build housing on the site of the former Trinity College, which UVM owns. Last month, the Burlington City Council tabled a zoning proposal that would have allowed higher, denser developments at the site, locking the two entities into a stalemate, VTDigger reported.

This story is a collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.

Ben Greenes is a junior at the University of Vermont studying psychological science.
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