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Champlain Housing Trust to manage Burlington pods for people experiencing homelessness

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A rendering provided to the Development Review Board of what a pod would look like. Image courtesy of the Burlington Community and Economic Development Office

after months of searching for an organization willing to manage the site, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced on Friday that Champlain Housing Trust will oversee the Elmwood Emergency Shelter Community, a group of pods meant to temporarily house people who otherwise have no shelter.

The pod site is a response to the city’s growing number of people experiencing homelessness, which tripled from January 2020 to January 2022, according to Samantha Dunn, the city’s assistant director for community works.

The pods are expected to shelter about half of that population, according to Weinberger.

He described Champlain Housing Trust, a non-profit whose mission is to provide permanent affordable housing, as the “perfect partner for the city.” The organization has “distinguished themselves as one of the most competent property managers” and is a partner that the city “hoped would be able to join with from the beginning,” Weinberger said.

The pod site is expected to include 25 single-occupancy and five two-person climate-controlled shelters equipped with electricity, heat and air conditioning on the city-owned parking lot at 51 Elmwood Ave. in the Old North End.

It will also include laundry facilities, a building with communal showers and toilets and a community space with resources for pod residents, according to the city’s plans.

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 Shelter, and Champlain Housing Trust rejected the city’s requests to oversee the pods.

Champlain Housing Trust CEO Michael Monte said the organization initially declined the management position partly because trust officials disagreed with an initial plan to locate a community resource center for the broader community at the pod site. That center will instead be based at Feeding Chittenden a few blocks away.

Monte also said the trust has grown more confident about its ability to hire people to manage the site because of a recent uptick in the number of people seeking work.

The city is still in the process of honing CHT’s budget, which will be dictated by the needs of the community and the zoning permit, Monte said.

The pod site is expected to open in November, according to Dunn. 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 enter into five construction contracts, distributing nearly $1.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds previously set aside for the project.

In February, the council approved the allocation of almost $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to address homelessness in Burlington — which included almost $1.5 million to create the shelter and almost $1 million for a community resource center that would offer food and employment assistance to people experiencing 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 shelter products and services.

Monte said that a specific process has yet to be finalized for people applying to live in the pods.

Although the pod site won’t be a permanent solution, Weinberger said he expects to negotiate an agreement over the coming months that would allow the pod site location to become permanent affordable housing within the next three years, in line with the Mayor’s 10-point action plan to “fulfill housing as a human right.”

“We need to do much more than this. We do need to create systemic change,” Weinberger said.

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