After months of searching for an organization willing to manage the site, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Friday that the Champlain Housing Trust will oversee the Elmwood Emergency Shelter Community, a shelter group that provides people, who have no other accommodation, should temporarily accommodate.
The pod site is in response to the growing number of homeless people in the city, which tripled from January 2020 to January 2022, according to Samantha Dunn, the city’s assistant director of community outreach.
According to Weinberger, the capsules are designed to house about half of that population.
He described the Champlain Housing Trust, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide sustainable, affordable housing, as “the perfect partner for the city.” The organization has “distinguished itself as one of the most competent real estate managers” and is a partner that the city “hoped for from the start,” said Weinberger.
The pod site is expected to include 25 single and five air-conditioned two-person pods, which will be equipped with electricity, heating and air conditioning in the city’s parking lot at 51 Elmwood Ave. in the Old North End.
According to the city’s plans, it will also include laundry facilities, a building with shared showers and toilets, and a common room with resources for capsule residents.
In June, city officials expressed concern when the larger social service organizations in the area, including the Howard Center, ANEW Place and the Committee on Temporary Shelters, and the Champlain Housing Trust, rejected the city’s requests for shelter oversight.
Champlain Housing Trust CEO Michael Monte said the organization initially turned down the leadership position, in part because Trust officials disagreed with an initial plan to build a community resource center for the broader community at the pod site. This center will instead be a few blocks away in Feeding Chittenden.
Monte also said the Trust had become more confident about its ability to hire staff to manage the site as the number of job seekers had increased recently.
The city is still improving the CHT’s budget, which is determined by community needs and zoning approval, Monte said.
According to Dunn, the pod site is scheduled to open in November. Construction is already underway, including installing new water and sewer lines and removing a fuel tank, she said.
In August, the city council authorized the director of the Community and Economic Development Office, also known as CEDO, to complete five construction contracts and distribute nearly $1.5 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act previously earmarked for the project were provided.
In February, the council approved the allocation of nearly $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to address homelessness in Burlington — including nearly $1.5 million for the creation of the shelter and nearly $1 million for a community resource center that would provide food and employment assistance to people affected by homelessness.
The five contracts approved by the City Council last month included contracts with 2nd Gen Builders, LLC for construction management, Up End This for the pods, and Pallet for housing products and services.
Monte said a specific procedure for people applying to live in the pods has yet to be completed.
Although the pod site will not be a permanent solution, Weinberger said he expects to negotiate an agreement in the coming months that would allow the pod site to become sustainable affordable housing within the next three years, in line with the 10 Points from the mayor’s action plan “Fulfilling housing as a human right”.
“We still have a lot more to do. We need to bring about systemic change,” said Weinberger.
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