FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: HOUSE PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS RELEASES SECOND CALL FOR ACTION ON HOUSING CRISIS
CONTACT Selene Colburn Progressive Caucus Chair SColburn@leg.state.vt.us (802) 233-1358
MONTPELIER, VT- On Monday, the House Progressive Caucus released the following statement on the housing crisis.
Since July 1, 2021 when the pandemic related temporary housing program was first set to expire Vermonters experiencing homlessness have been in a constant state of wondering when their housing and stability would end. The Vermont House of Representatives Progressive Caucus released a statement on July 2nd, 2021 voicing our deep concern for the housing security of hundreds of Vermonters about to face an end to their housing. We are here again waiting to see if the Governor will act to extend support to these vulnerable Vermonters again. This is an unacceptable way to treat our community members.
Vermont has been in a housing crisis for a long time, and for a period of time during the pandemic, Vermont chose to house every Vermonter who needed housing. We acknowledged the humanity and importance of keeping vulnerable Vermonters safe and housed to weather the pandemic. The pandemic only exacerbated the existing housing crisis with more people than ever in danger of becoming homeless, soaring housing costs, and a lack of available housing for even those who can afford the cost. Now is not the time to put more people on the streets.
The Federal Government will fund an extension of the GA Motel program, through the end of the year. There is no reason not to accept these federal dollars and house Vermonters. The hotels and motels currently providing temporary housing have largely agreed to continue to house people and they are willing to help.
As the weather gets colder, and COVID numbers skyrocket it is our responsibility to keep every Vermonter safe and housed while we look for long term solutions. Rep. Taylor Small of Winooski says, “I had hoped that the care and compassion exhibited in the early parts of the pandemic would carry over as we plan strategic investments with both federal and state funding for ending homelessness in Vermont. Sadly, it seems this administration is moving forward with the status quo: limiting access to emergency resources such as the GA motel voucher program, highlighting investments in future housing infrastructure which does not mediate our current situation, opening up congregate shelters with little to no privacy, and providing emergency rent for households who struggle to find a safe and affordable place to rent. Did we learn anything over the past two years?”
There is again a clear choice between keeping vulnerable Vermonters housed or putting them back on the streets, where they will be at increased risk of chronic health problems, substance abuse, and interpersonal violence. “A decision to evict several hundred Vermonters this month without clear support for new housing is unconscionable, and calls into question what priorities the state holds for our most vulnerable neighbors. Secure housing is a foundational piece of supporting people’s health and safety,” said Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak of Burlington.
Advocates in our state have documented ways that we can end homlessness in a small state. It is possible. We need the political will and leadership to make the bold moves necessary to make this a state priority. “We are identifying creative solutions, but they will not be built overnight. We have money pouring in from the Federal Government to make investments in “building back better,” housing needs to be a priority investment, so that we are able to end homelessness rather than see it grow,” said Representative Tanya Vyhosvky of Essex in a statement to activists who are camping on the statehouse steps until the GA Motel program is fully reinstated. The progressive house caucus stands in solidarity with this action and all Vermonters who are experiencing homelessness. .
While we made important investments within the state FY22 budget using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to build more housing units in the next couple of years. However, we cannot simply build our way out of this housing crisis. We must do more to invest additional ongoing state resources to provide wrap-around social services to Vermonters once they access new housing. Vermont should also continue the housing assistance programs created during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP), the eviction and utilities moratoriums, and emergency housing programs, to help keep Vermonters in secure housing by offering short-term economic support in their time of need. These short-term investments in supporting our neighbors will prevent long-term negative impacts on Vermonters’ economic well being due to an avoidable eviction or series of overdue utility bills.
Finally, and most importantly, Vermont must prioritize equity in the distribution of its housing programs. It is clear time and time again that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color, and that Vermonters of color are already more likely to suffer from homelessness, housing challenges, and income inequality than their white counterparts. Disabled Vermonters have also greatly suffered during the pandemic, and Vermonters with special needs struggle even more to find adequate housing. The efforts towards housing for all will be incomplete if we do not seek to end these disparities through equitable and specific investments in groups often left out of the housing conversation.
The Federal Money to help with COVID and recovery has given us an opportunity to make a significant step towards ending homlessness in Vermont. We have seen through the pandemic that this is possible.We call on the Governor and state leaders to immediately allow federal dollars available to extend the GA housing program through the end of the year, and allocate state funds to extend this program until a permanent housing is realized. We need the Governor to work in partnership with the legislature to commit to ending homelessness through strategic and permanent policy changes.
Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (Burlington)
Rep. Heather Surprenant (Barnard)
Rep. Selene Colburn (Burlington)
Rep. Taylor Small (Winooski)
Rep. Brain Cina (Burlington)
Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky (Essex)
Rep. Mollie Burke (Brattleboro)