People & Places

2021 report shows more diversity but persistent inequities in Chittenden County

The recently published 2021 ECOS annual report visually displays some of the most notable highlights in Chittenden County and summarizes progress toward the combined goals set in regional plans. Courtesy graphic by Matt Heywood/The Image Farm

While Chittenden County is growing and becoming more diverse, Black, Indigenous and people of color continue to face disparities, according to an annual report and scorecard issued earlier this month by the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.

The ECOS report — which stands for environment, community, opportunity and sustainability — serves as a long-term planning tool for the region. Based on the ECOS Plan adopted in 2013 and updated in 2018, it gives planners a collective vision of a healthy, inclusive and prosperous Chittenden County with input from over 60 federal, state and local entities, including businesses and nonprofits.

The demographics stand out in the 2021 report, which was released this month, said Charlie Baker, executive director of the regional planning commission.

The total population in Chittenden County from 2010 to 2020 increased by nearly 12,000 people, or 7.5%, to 168,323, the report showed. While non-Hispanic white residents remain the largest category, the county is becoming more diverse, with 99.7% of the population growth over the last 10 years concentrated among residents who are Hispanic, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or Native Hawaiian.

“So only 30 people of all that growth were white, you know, so all of our growth is coming from BIPOC or diverse populations, which is really important to recognize,” Baker said. “It is certainly a trend that had started in the previous decade when (growth of the white population) was about 80-something percent. So, it’s just a continuation of a trend which really makes the work on equity so much more important in our community.”

Data from the report also indicates that disparities persist throughout the county, with BIPOC residents lagging behind their white counterparts on markers including homeownership, household income, health and education.

The report shows Black and African American households earn less than half of the white households in Chittenden County. The annual median income in Chittenden County in 2021 was $36,310 for Black or African American households and $50,625 for Asian households compared to $79,133 for white, non-Hispanic households.

If the region achieved wage equity, residents of color would earn $188 million more and contribute that much more to the economy, the report notes.

Moreover, 86% of Black and African American households rent in Chittenden County, while 65% of white households own homes.

The ability to afford a decent home is a prerequisite for opportunity, but institutional racism has created systemic barriers that have historically denied BIPOC residents the option, a 2022 report from the Vermont Housing Finance Agency notes.

With the pandemic exacerbating housing challenges in Vermont, the state recorded a 7% rise in homelessness this year. Data from the report indicates that 14%, or 95 people, identified as Black or African American among unhoused people in 2021.

Addressing inequity has been one of eight key strategies in the ECOS Plan since 2013 and “there is much work ahead,” the authors of the newest ECOS plan note.

Addressing equity has also been a key part of Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s agenda. The city’s Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Department organized its first Juneteenth celebration this summer, supported BIPOC vaccination clinics, used federal funding to help address health disparities for BIPOC Vermonters beyond Covid-19 impacts and continues anti-racism training for city employees.

“We must acknowledge that racial justice is our most pressing emergency and our hardest challenge,” he said in his annual State of the City address last year where he envisioned a “more equitable and more racially just” community and, soon after, outlined a plan to address the housing crisis.

He said he understood that targeting government efforts toward BIPOC Vermonters “causes discomfort for some,” but that such an assessment “ignores our history” in which “the policies and practices in this country explicitly discriminated on the basis of race in many aspects of our society.”

An organizational equity assessment report prepared by The Creative Discourse Group for the regional commission in December indicates that a healthy, inclusive and prosperous future is not within the reach of all who live and work in Chittenden County and that regional planning commissions like Chittenden County’s have contributed to unequal resource distribution.

“Verbal commitments are important, but these alone are insufficient in combating and rectifying the harm caused by systemic oppression and racism,” the report states. “... To effectively address racial inequities, organizations must understand how the organization's past and present practices are adversely impacting marginalized populations and identify actions that can be taken to remedy these problems.” 

The report recommends that the commission place equity, inclusion and justice at the center of every facet of its work, that it prioritize connections with diverse populations, including those who have been marginalized or underrepresented, and that it leverage its expertise and resources to become a regional equity leader.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the author of the equity assessment report.

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Auditi Guha

About Auditi

Auditi is Chittenden County editor at VTDigger. Originally from Calcutta, India, she graduated from Emerson College with an MA in journalism. She has worked as an editor and reporter for several newspapers, and in various beats. Most recently, she covered race and justice at Rewire.News, and higher education at the New Bedford Standard-Times. She previously worked at several Massachusetts newsrooms. She is a mentor for young reporters through the Report For America program, founded the Boston chapter of the South Asian Journalists Association, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: [email protected]

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