Chronology of Progressive Achievement in Burlington, VT

Key events in the progressive history of Burlington:

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1981 – Bernie Sanders elected mayor of Burlington.

  • Sanders beat six-time incumbent Democratic mayor Gordon Paquette by twelve votes.
  • Sanders’ ran a grassroots, door knocking campaign.
  • Sanders ran as an independent candidate, but considers himself a democratic socialist.
  • Sanders served four terms in office, between 1981 and 1989.


1983 – Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) founded.

  • In describing the coalition that supported CEDO, Peter Clavelle was quoted as saying, “It was an unholy alliance of Progressives, Republicans and the business community, with a couple Democrats in there.”
  • Burlington’s government structure is a weak mayoralty. CEDO helped Sanders to advance economic and social equity issues that he could not move through city council.
  • CEDO’s mission is to “work with the community to foster economic vitality; preserve and enhance neighborhoods, quality of life and the environment; and promote equity and opportunity for all residents of Burlington.”
  • CEDO is funded through Federal and State grants, and through the Housing Trust Fund.
Champlain Housing Trust

Formerly Burlington Community Land Trust


1983 – Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT) founded.

  • First municipally-sponsored (via CDBG) community land trust in the county.
  • Initial focus in Burlington’s Old North End, Burlington’s most economically disadvantage neighborhood.
  • Creates a “ladder of affordability” from SROs to rental and co-op rental to ownership and cohousing. Also, early on BCLT did economic development work, placing a number of buildings in the Old North End in trust to create space for nonprofits.
  • Later expanded to working citywide.
  • Merged with Lake Champlain Housing Development Corporation in 2007 to become Champlain Housing Trust. (See below.) Champlain Housing Trust now includes over 2,000 affordable units in its portfolio.


1983 – Neighborhood Planning Assemblies established.

  • From the city’s website: “Neighborhood Planning Assemblies (NPAs) are grassroots, neighborhood organizations that were established in each of Burlington’s seven Wards to encourage citizen participation in City government. Working as neighborhood advocacy groups, Neighborhood Planning Assemblies help improve communication between the citizens of Burlington and City government through regular meetings scheduled in each Ward.”
  • Key activities of NPAs include contributing to decision-making regarding allocation of CDBG funds, make resolutions that go before city council, and competing with other NPAs in the city for Neighborhood Development Grants focused on poverty reduction and revitalization.
  • NPAs meet monthly.


1984 – First Jobs and People report prepared.

  • A report providing a social and economic profile of Burlington and the Burlington area.
  • The most recent Jobs and People report, Jobs and People IV, was published in 2010.


1985 – Lake Champlain Housing Development Corporation founded.

  • Sponsored by City via CDBG funding.
  • Operates regionally, in four counties in the northwest region of Vermont.
  • Owns and manages elderly and disabled affordable apartments. (HUD 202)
  • Merged with Burlington Community Land Trust in 2007 to become Champlain Housing Trust. (See above.)


1989 – Established City of Burlington Housing Trust Fund.

  • Housing Trust Fund provides funding for affordable housing for very low to moderate-income households.
  • Funding sources: one penny on every $100 of real property value paid into the housing trust fund and payments in lieu from inclusionary zoning.


1989 – Northgate Apartments (336 units of affordable apartments) saved.

  • Term of affordability under HUD 221(d)(3) was due to lapse in 1989.
  • Brenda Torpy, then with CEDO, primarily focused on “Saving Northgate”, through a combination of local and state level action, tenant organizing, and a public education campaign.
  • Northgate Tenant Survey – Tenants responded to a survey with questions about length of residence in Northgate Apartments and in the city, employment, and ties to churches and community organizations. Showed that Northgate residents were good neighbors and members of the community.
  • Today, Northgate is a resident-owned and controlled nonprofit, offering a range of affordability.


1990 – Peter Clavelle elected mayor of Burlington.

  • Clavelle was the director of CEDO under Bernie Sanders.
  • Clavelle ran as a Progressive (a member of the Vermont Progressive Party).
  • Clavelle served seven terms as mayor between 1989 and 2006.
  • In 1993, Republican Peter Brownell won the mayoralty, but his one two-year term in office only galvanized the progressive effort in Burlington and legitimized Clavelle. Brownell’s victory was seen as a conservative backlash after Clavelle authorized full benefits for domestic partners of city employees.
  • Article that profiles Peter Clavelle (Business People Vermont):
  • The Clavell Years Accomplishments (PDF)


1990 – Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance established in Burlington.

  • Housing developers given the option of building 15% of units as affordable to those at or below 65% of the Area Median Income (25% affordable in the waterfront zone, the most desirable portion of the city) or providing a payment in lieu to the Housing Trust Fund.


1990 – Waterfront Revitalization Plan adopted. Add picture of Waterfront.

  • Mayor Clavelle characterized the waterfront as “a fenced-off zone of junkyards, rail yards, oil tanks, and a coal-fired generating plant.” See thesis for source. Add source and link.
  • A plan that would have primarily turned the Burlington Waterfront into high-end condominiums was rejected, after significant push back from well-organized neighborhood groups. Sanders had initially supported it, because of the tax revenues that would have supported his equity agenda, but sensitive to the opinion of the residents of the working class and poor neighborhoods located near the waterfront, Sanders ultimately abandoned support for this private use.
  • Sanders referred to it as “The People’s Waterfront”. Sanders explained his vision this way: “Public ownership over key parcels would mean that we will be committed to different priorities. We won’t be out to make a profit.
  • Competing with the railroads, the owners of the city’s waterfront, for control of the land, the city’s attorney John Franco eventually found the leverage needed to assert public control over the waterfront: the Public Trust Doctrine. Because the waterfront was largely in disuse, Vermont’s Supreme Court found that the railroad was not stewarding its highest and best use. The Supreme Court declared the city’s waterfront Public Trust Land, with the provision that this Public Trust Land be used for: Indoor or outdoor parks and recreation uses and facilities including parks and open space, marinas open to the public on a non-discriminatory basis, water dependent uses,boating and related services.
  • Under Mayor Clavelle, the city purchased 60 acres of land from the railroad for Waterfront Park and the urban reserve.
  • Today, the Burlington Waterfront includes urban reserve land, conservation land, Waterfront Apartments (an award-winning, LEED platinum, affordable eight-story apartment building), a sailing program, a fishing pier, a skate park, open park area, a bike path, a boathouse, an aquarium and science center, a ferry dock, a marina, and more.


1992 – VISTA Program established.

  • By enlisting VISTA volunteers, CEDO extends its outreach and organizing capacity.


1993 – UVM builds Redstone Apartments.

  • Redstone Apartments is a large student housing complex located on the UVM campus.
  • Redstone Apartments opened more housing units to residents of the city, lessening pressure on the housing market by students.


1999 – Burlington Legacy Project created.

  • Burlington Legacy Project established to bring Legacy Action Plan to fruition.
  • The Legacy Action Plan, a 30-year sustainability plan for the city, is the outcome of a large public process.
  • Key focus areas include economy, governance, neighborhoods, youth and life skills, and environment.
  • Over 20 leaders from the business, low-income, environment, social services, academic, and youth communities serve on the steering committee.
  • Report cards on progress toward the 30-year goal are generated using indicator data.


2002 – City Market opens.

  • The Onion River Coop, a smaller grocery cooperative which was located in the Old North End neighborhood, closes its doors on N. Winooski Ave. and reopened as a full-sized supermarket, City Market, one block north of the Church Street Mall.
  • Prior to City Market opening, there was no supermarket in the city’s core. City Market provides a walkable grocery shopping option for city residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.


2004 – Center for Community and Neighborhoods (CCAN, now called Community Development Division) established.

  • The Community Development Division works to enhance community participation and social inclusion, citizen action, and effective social and nonprofit infrastructures.
  • Citizen organizing through traditional door knocking strategies and other organizing techniques is a significant component of the work of this division.
  • Oversees the We All Belong Initiative, to support schools, government agencies, and organizations to have enhanced cultural competency.


2006 – Bob Kiss elected mayor of Burlington.

  • Bob Kiss ran as a member of Vermont’s Progressive Party.
  • Kiss had served three terms as a member of Vermont’s House of Representatives.
  • In 2006, the city had recently adopted instant runoff voting (IRV), and Kiss’ victory was a result of this new electoral system. (Former Mayor Clavelle had backed Hinda Miller, the Democratic candidate in this race, and there was generally a schism among progressives in this election between the Miller camp and the Kiss camp.)


2007 – North Street Revitalization Project completed.

  • North Street is the major north to south street in the Old North End Neighborhood and the area is designated as an Enterprise Community.
  • The North Street Revitalization Project included street improvements, burying utilities, modernized street lights, improvements to sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, and beautification (trees, benches, etc.).
  • City reinvestment promoted private investment. An arts and business association (Old North End Arts and Business Network) was established in the area as a result of the new opportunity, and new business, many owned by residents of the area, have developed along North Street.


2009 – Lawrence Barnes Elementary and H.O. Wheeler Elementary become magnet schools, creating greater socioeconomic integration in the city’s schools.

  • In 2006, a task force determined that socioeconomic integration was lacking in the schools.
  • At Lawrence Barnes and H.O.Wheeler, nearly 100% of students qualified for free and reduced lunches, and the Old North End neighborhood, where they are located, is where a large proportion of the city’s refugee population and other low-income households live.
  • The city explored different options for integrating schools, ultimately settling on the magnet school idea.
  • Lawrence Barnes is now the Lawrence Barnes Sustainability Academy and H.O.Wheeler is now the Integrated Arts Academy.
  • The attendance districts will eventually be redrawn so that students who live in the Old North End will attend other district schools.



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