People & Places

'It's not the easiest on us': Winooski students speak about housing in their city

Editor's Note: This story is a project from Winooski High School's Culture and Community Capstone course, in which students "design a community-based project intended to make Winooski a more inclusive and just place.” Special thanks to Luke Dorfman, one of the teachers of the course, for his generous collaboration. The Underground Workshop is a collaborative network of student journalists from across Vermont. For more information please email the Workshop's editor, Ben Heintz, at [email protected]

Students passing between classes this spring at Winooski High School. Photo by Amira Mohamed Oussaid

by Maryan Aweis and Amira Mohamed Oussaid

Winooski High School

As of 2022, the City of Winooski has over 7,000 residents, and almost 25% of the population identifies as Black, Indigenous and people of color or BIPOC.

Winooski School District contains three schools and 740 students, all on one campus. It is even more diverse than the city. Currently, 57% of the students are Asian, Black-African American and Hispanic. About 46% of the students are multilingual, with some of the more common languages including Somali, Nepali, Swahili, Kirundi, French and Lingala.

According to Winooski's recent equity audit, “One of the greatest issues facing Winooski’s BIPOC residents is access to affordable, quality housing.”

We talked to Winooski students to hear their experiences with housing. Through interviews, focus groups and discussions with community members, we learned that not many students wanted to open up. We had hoped to create a photo story to share images and visuals of the housing problems but most people were not comfortable taking pictures of their homes to share. 

Many Winooski students said their families need more space in their homes. One said they didn’t have privacy.  Another said they couldn’t study at night or do homework because they had to share a room with their siblings.  Some people said when they had online schooling it was hard to have a quiet space to do school. 

The students interviewed requested to stay anonymous but gave us permission to share parts of their story. Interior photos come from this same group of students.

A view down Franklin Street, Winooski. Photo by Amira Mohamed Oussaid.

10th Grade Student

What do you think is your biggest problem with housing?

“We have a two bedroom apartment and there's three of us and we've been on the list for two years and they haven't done anything about it. We also had some issues with our water pressure and our hot water and it still hasn't been fixed.”

How do you think your life could be better if you didn't have to worry about housing?

“It would be a lot better. I will be able to sleep good at night.”

A broken shower head that landlords never fixed.

11th Grade Student

What would you like to see improve in your house?

“Probably a bigger yard.”

Do you think the housing you’re living in is suitable for a large family?

“No.  There’s three bedrooms and there’s six of us.”

Has your local landlord been helpful when you’ve had an issue in your housing?

“No, never.  They usually try to find an easier, inexpensive way to go around it.  Okay, we had a problem in our yard.  And they wouldn’t fix it.  Or if they did, it was just really bad.  Like one time, our fence was broken.  We asked them to fix it and they just chose not to.  They pretty much passed on it.”

The wall of a student's bedroom.

10th Grade Student

What do you think your biggest problem with housing is?


How does this housing issue have a negative impact on our school and community?

“Kicking people out doesn’t give them a voice.”

A moldy window from a student's bedroom. 

9th Grade Student

What are the things our community lacks?

“I feel like our community lacks hearing the residents’ voices.”

I think problems with housing impacts our life and community because…

“I think problems with housing impacts our life and community because it doesn't allow us to live in the standard lifestyle we want to live in.”

A change I want to see in my community is…

A change I want to see my community is allowing the residents’ voice to be heard.”

The ceiling of a student's bedroom.

10th Grade Student

What are the issues you have had with housing?

“I would just say overall, when there's a problem, the landlords don’t act on it immediately.  Instead, they keep pushing it back or not answering our phone calls and texts. We have mold on our kitchen ceiling and also in our bathtub and this has caused my family health issues.”

“We've all experienced headaches every day.  We have a baby in the house, and it's not really safe, so they need to do something about it now before the effects actually do something serious to us.”

One family in Winooski can’t afford to get their 1975 toilet fixed

 10th Grade Student

What are the issues you have had with housing?  What has your landlord done?

“My toilet is almost 50 years old. It has been here since 1975. I told my landlord to fix it. It's been more than five messages, but he did not come back and fix it."

“I told my dad to buy a new one but it's very expensive. We don't have to worry about using the bathroom or toilet to go pee or something like that. But I wish we had water for the shower.”

Winooski students heading home at the end of a school day. Photo by Amira Mohamed Oussaid

10th Grade Student

What would you like to see improve in your housing?

“I would like to see some of the houses that are around town just not being sold to like bigger businesses or whatever they're trying to do with them right now, because it's hurting a lot of families in the community, but they don't really care about that.”

“It's forcing me to move, because I live among a smaller business and they're selling because they're not making enough money, which is forcing me to move out. Well, we don't really have the money to just up and leave like that.”

“So it's not the easiest on us, but we'll make it through.”

Looking down River Street, in one of Winooski's changing neighborhoods. 

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Underground Workshop

About Underground Workshop

The Underground Workshop is a collaborative community of student journalists from across Vermont, reporting and publishing for VTDigger's statewide audience, and made possible by the Rowland Foundation. The Workshop gathers on zoom every other Thursday night, with student work at the center of each meeting. Any student is welcome to attend and can submit work at any time in a range of formats: feature stories, news briefs, Q&A's, photostories, etc. We are also eager to work with teachers to develop projects for their students. For more information please contact Ben Heintz, the Workshop's editor, at [email protected]

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