Politics

Bill would ease path to homeownership for members of marginalized groups

A Burlington building is listed for sale in 2020 File photo by Grace Elletson/VTDigger

While many of Ashley Laporte's white friends assumed they would be owning homes from an early age, it never occurred to Laporte, who is Black, that she could own a home until later in life, she told a committee of the Vermont House last week. 

Black households in the state have a homeownership rate of 21%, compared with white households’ homeownership rate of 70%, according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, which attributes the discrepancy in part to differences in income. 

Now, some state legislators are seeking to close the gap by providing funding for members of marginalized groups to buy land. They are advocating for passage of H.273, which was introduced in 2021 by Rep. Brian Cina, P/D-Burlington, and 17 other House members. Last week, the House Committee on General Housing and Military Affairs took testimony on the measure.

The bill seeks to address and reduce the inequities experienced by marginalized groups via funding for housing, as well as other forms of inequity such as food insecurity and financial education, overseen by a board made up of members of marginalized groups. 

The goal, Cina said, is to help resolve the structural conflict that is created by institutionalized discrimination. 

The bill seeks to support Vermont residents who may have been discriminated against or lacked opportunity due “to race, ethnicity, sex, geography, language preference, immigrant or citizen status, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, or disability status.”

Cina referenced previously enacted policies, such as the 2012 Working Lands Enterprise Act and last year's Act 33, which also aimed to improve equity and access within the state. The latter addressed potential inequities in Vermont's health care system during the pandemic by establishing an advisory board made up of members of marginalized communities.  

The bill was shaped by Seeding Power Vermont, a collective led by BIPOC activists and legislators who seek to build upon the work done to address inequities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Kenya Lazuli, a member of Seeding Power Vermont, told members of the House committee last week that the board would be funded by the General Assembly, in addition to private and public donations. Advocates are seeking $10 million in state funding for the proposed program.

The board would award grants for the purchase of a primary residence, farmland and land deemed suitable for regenerative practices, for land access and stewardship programs and additional programs, she said.  

Several of the collective's non-legislative members, including Lazuli and Laporte, testified last week about their lived experiences as Black, Indigenous or people of color in a state that is nearly 90% white. 

When Laporte and her partner finally began the process of buying a home in Vermont, she said, they found themselves facing barriers such as buyers unwilling to sell their home to an anti-racist activist. 

Although they have since purchased a home in Vermont outside of Chittenden County, Laporte noted she’s surrounded by a very small community of color. Her friends still live in Chittenden County, in part, because of the abundance of rental units there.

This bill could help Laporte realize her hopes of living within a diverse community, she said. 

“We would love more than anything else to be able to own land next to other people of color and be in community with people of color,” she said. “We'd love to practice Indigenous farming and home settling practices and learn from people within our community.”

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Talia Heisey

About Talia

Talia Heisey is a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying journalism and English. There they are the managing editor of the Amherst Wire as well as a past staff writer for the the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. A Massachusetts native, they have interned for the Framingham Source, DigBoston and the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.

Email: [email protected]

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