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This commentary is by state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden-Southeast District, and Mike Pieciak, the Vermont state treasurer.
Many Vermonters are in survival mode and are living unsheltered, in cars, or in unsafe or inadequate situations. Vermont has experienced the highest rate of growth in the unhoused population of any state in the country, now counting over 3,000 people. Nearly a quarter are children.
Furthermore, before the pandemic, the average length of homelessness in Vermont was 54 days. Now it’s 270 days.
Every rung of the ladder toward housing stability is crowded. Those living on the streets or in cars are trying to get into motels. Those in motels are desperately trying to find something to rent. Many renters are trying to save up enough for a down payment, which is now further out of reach with historically low housing inventory available, causing significant increases in the average home price. Many older Vermonters are struggling to downsize, competing for an “ender” home with those seeking starter homes.
We have been grappling with housing shortages for many years, but we have put off systemic solutions until now, when we are in a full-blown housing crisis.
While many would argue we have multiple crises to address simultaneously, addressing the housing crisis has to come first. People need shelter before they can enter our workforce or care about larger existential crises with our democracy and planet.
The difference between renting and owning is also the greatest single factor in the wealth gap in this country. Failing to create homeownership opportunities will only worsen longstanding inequities, especially for low-income people and people of color.
We have 24,000 open jobs and fewer than 1,000 housing listings, and those housing options are often very far from work and need significant upgrades, so people are commuting great distances and living in leaky historic buildings, all of which adds to our state’s carbon footprint.
Many of these open jobs are in our hospitals, schools, child care centers, and climate workforce, so we are hard pressed to meet any of our other policy goals until we support the needs of working families.
S.100, the Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone (HOME) Bill, addresses systemic issues in land use planning and allows us to develop denser, multifamily housing where we want to see it in downtowns and village centers.
We have spent over a half a billion dollars on housing development with our pandemic recovery dollars, but many projects are still stuck in appeals processes and litigation. We cannot spend more money without reducing unnecessary delays when our supply chains and labor markets are so fragile.
The HOME Bill reduces regulatory barriers largely in the 41 square miles of designated growth areas so we can preserve the other 9,600 square miles of our state. This pro-housing legislation allows duplexing and quadruplexing by right, ending discrimination against other forms of housing besides single-family homes and expanding choice in the process.
So, why are these solutions still in danger of not making it through the Legislature?
We have a longstanding culture of moving slowly and deliberately, which generally makes us proud — and should. We have no billboards, we have pastoral working lands, we have large stretches of open space, but now our policies of significantly limiting growth are impacting the well-being of the next generation of Vermonters, an unintended consequence decades in the making.
Providing not just shelter, not just affordable housing, but a home to everyone should be something we strive for together. It’s our most basic need and the basic building block of our economy. Join us in supporting the HOME Bill.