Policy Brief: Actions Necessary to End the Vermont Housing Crisis

Introduction:

As outlined in the 2016 Vermont Roadmap to End Homelessness, Vermont is a leader in the nation’s fight to end homelessness. The state boasts a wide variety of non-profit and state-led organizations working to implement programs and policies, and the small community of Vermont allows for greater communication and collaboration between these groups. However, as it stands in 2021, Vermont has yet to eradicate homelessness. As of January 2020, Vermont had an estimated population of 1,110 people experiencing homelessness, including 124 families, 71 veterans, 99 unaccompanied young adults, and 185 people experiencing chronic homelessness (Source: USICH). As these numbers were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the homeless population of Vermont is much higher, with the experts I interviewed estimating it to be around 2,000 individuals.
 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont officials made the decision to essentially eradicate homelessness temporarily through the Vermont General Assistance Emergency Housing Program. Vermont also received a previously unimaginable amount of money to use towards housing recovery through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), money that will go away after 3-5 years. However, with the projected end of the pandemic in view for Vermonters, these programs ground to a sudden halt, leading approximately 700 Vermonters to a cliff of sudden homelessness at the beginning of this month and over a thousand more Vermonters to the same fate by September. Vermont has already demonstrated its ability to eradicate homelessness through the emergency programs implemented during the pandemic. The continuation of homelessness in the state is not due to lack of resources or knowledge of what to do. It is a policy decision. We know from our experience with COVID-19 that eradicating homelessness is not only essential, but very possible. It is now up to state and local government officials to ensure that the necessary actions are taken.
 

Methodology:

In order to conduct research for this policy brief, I interviewed many experts throughout the state who have devoted their lives to housing policy and ending homelessness in Vermont. These people included Maryellen Griffin of Vermont Legal Aid, Hilary Melton of Pathways Vermont, Maura Collins of VHFA, and  Sarah Carpenter, city councilor and former executive director of VHFA.
 

Results:

Every person I interviewed agreed on the same thing: the main barrier to housing the unhoused in Vermont is the lack of safe, affordable, adequate housing. The best way to overcome this barrier is to build more housing. The state should invest in permanent housing over temporary shelters, as the stability of permanent housing allows for greater change to a person’s life than temporary shelter. Housing units should be integrated mixed-income communities, rather than separate low-income housing, because that model best allows for homeless people to be reintegrated into a community, rather than creating isolated areas for low-income people to live separate from the rest of society. Once people are housed, the state needs to help them remain housed. This includes programs for rental assistance as long as necessary, as well as offering wrap around social service programs. Many people transitioning from homelessness to housing are dealing with trauma, addiction, and chronic diseases. It is essential that the state work to help support them through these experiences as well. 

There are many barriers to building housing in Vermont as well. One of the main barriers is the lack of available tradespeople within the state, which forces developers to hire out-of-state companies at greater costs. Therefore, the state must make a much greater investment into post-secondary trade school programs in order to develop that work force within the state.
 

Policy Recommendations:

Short-term:

  • Extensions of motel program for all Vermonters in need to ensure temporary housing for all

  • Override veto of bill S.79 to establish new standards for housing in Vermont

  • Use ARPA funds to invest in statewide housing projects that include mixed-income units

 

Long-term:

  • Divert funds from investment in shelter system and instead invest in permanent housing 

  • Establish funds for long-term maintenance of housing conditions and repairs for new developments

  • Invest in support programs for newly-housed individuals, including:

    • Rental and utility assistance for as long as needed

    • Social services for trauma, addiction, chronic disease, disabilities, and other conditions that necessitate additional social support.

  • Establish a reparations program for Black Vermonters in order to lessen racial gap of home ownership

  • Establish a program to examine and consciously work to eliminate racial disparities in housing

  • Fund existing trade school programs in the state and work to make programs more accessible 

  • Establish labor standards for collaborations between trade schools and companies

 

References and Useful Resources:

Vermont Roadmap to End Homelessness - Final Report (2016)

Sosin, O’Reilly, & Griffin: Housing is a public health crisis in Vermont
VHFA New Funding Summary - Includes ARPA Funding