From "What will Vermont’s motel voucher program extension mean for Winooskians?" by Catherine Bass, The Winooski News, July 4, 2023
The state’s pandemic-era motel voucher program will continue for Winooskians and other Vermonters until April 2024.
That news came after state legislators made a sudden deal June 20 to continue vouchers for people currently in the program, though they must now pay 30% of their household income toward the costs of their housing, one of several stipulations in the bill signed June 29 by Gov. Phil Scott.
The federally funded program, which was originally introduced in the COVID-19 pandemic, was intended as a short-term solution to temporarily shelter Vermonters without housing by paying for them to live in motels and hotels. It ended up housing around 2,000 Vermonters. But when federal funding ran out in March, for many it seemed the program would have to end too. People housed via the program were set to be evicted July 1.
That would have left out to dry thousands of Vermonters who did not have alternative living arrangements.
And it is not for lack of trying, said Katherine “Deac” Decarreau, executive director of the Winooski Housing Authority. “Folks are still technically on the market for housing even if they’re in the program,” Decarreau said.
“We’ve received so many new applications that we’re still putting it into the system,” she said. Decarreau said figuring out how many people exactly have received vouchers in the city is complicated because the application process uses bedroom size, not headcount.
The problem is not that there aren’t enough programs, Decarreau said, but rather, there aren’t enough houses and housing vouchers.
“So even a year — two years ago — you got a voucher, you had a 95% chance of finding an apartment,” Decarreau said. “And now, in those short few years, you have a 20% or 25% chance of finding a voucher … It’s just horrible, there’s no housing.” The waiting list for vouchers in Winooski as of June 20 was more than 250 people, Decarreau said.
Decarreau said the housing crisis is nothing new in Vermont, a sentiment echoed by Vermont House Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, P/D-Burlington, a former Winooski resident.
“It is important to note that we don’t have housing solutions easily at our fingertips in terms of lots of units to put people in, so it is sort of like a bigger, broader problem that we’re facing,” Mulvaney-Stanak said.
She thought legislators didn’t put enough money into the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program this year. “We dropped the ball about continuing to fund that program, which (would have helped) prevent more people from becoming unhoused,” she said.
Advocates and officials interviewed cited varying reasons as to why Vermont’s houseless population faces such a crisis: not building enough housing for families, staffing shortages, inflation, landlords backing out of subsidized housing and more people wanting to live alone.
One thing that Decarreau, Mulvaney-Stanak and state Sen. Martine Gulick, D-Chittenden Central, agreed on was that extending the motel voucher program was a temporary, and somewhat inadequate, measure to address lack of housing in Vermont.
“The goal is to phase out the program and … number one, adequately house people who are unhoused, and then second, provide supports necessary for folks who have been living in motels,” Gulick said.
New measures in place in the motel voucher program include monitoring by several committees and a 48-hour rule, which stipulates that if motel residents are given notice of placement in different housing that they must take it within 48 hours.
Gulick said she hopes those measures will help people who were overlooked because they were in the program find a more permanent, better-fitting housing situation.