A Heartless Policy in Search of a Rationale

The Phil Scott Memorial Emergency Housing Unit

We are, once again, approaching a deadline to kick hundreds of unhoused people out of their temporary lodgings in hopes that they will (a) find permanent housing in a terribly tight rental market or (b) just go away, please. As of next Friday 10/22, more than 500 households are set to lose their housing. The original deadline was in June, and more than half of those housed in motels were kicked out at that time. State officials agreed to extend it for the neediest clients to September. Then, just before it was to expire, Gov. Phil Scott allowed a 30-day “pause” in terminating the program. He didn’t want to label it an extension because that might seem, I don’t know, too capitulative?

Now we’re waiting to see if another extens — sorry, pause — might be in the works. Meanwhile, anxiety levels must be going through the roof for those hundreds of clients.

But hey, don’t worry; pretty soon they won’t have a roof for their anxiety to go through. See, it all works out.

This is bad and heartless enough. (There’s also an element of blackmail, but more on that later.) But what makes it a moral calamity is that there is no goddamn reason to end this program right now. It’s not costing the state a dime because the feds are paying the freight through the end of this year. Plus, Vermont is swimming in federal Covid relief funds so there’s no excuse for kicking people out onto the street. Or campground, since that’s one resource being offered to the dispossessed.

Remind me again how the governor is devoted to protecting the most vulnerable. Or is that nothing but eyewash?

The weird thing about this is that Scott has failed to come up with a clear reason for his opposition. In September and again now, he has said that the program will have to end sometime so it might as well be now. That’s truly despicable, a word I’d never thought I’d have occasion to use concerning Governor Nice Guy. But here we are.

Think I’m being harsh? Here are his own words on the subject: “Most everyone would agree, the Legislature certainly does, this can’t go on in perpetuity. So what happens if we go till January 1 and this ends at the end of the year, what then? We’re still going to be faced with the same situation.”

The fact that an extension would give clients another two and a half months of secure housing? Meh. Let ’em get an early start on deprivation. “Are there no prisons?” shouted Ebenezer Scott. “Are there no workhouses?”

As for that admin/legislative agreement, that was last spring. Hmm, has anything changed since then?

Oh, just a little bug called the Delta variant. We’ve just hit the highest seven-day new case total for the entire pandemic. Seems like an extra-awful time to throw people out of their housing.

In September, Scott’s head of the Department of Children and Families, Sean Brown, floated another reason to end the program now: A shortage of available motel rooms with the onset of fall tourism.

But then Scott “paused” the eviction date through the entirety of leaf season. The rest of autumn is pretty much a tourism dead zone. Nobody comes here for stick season. “Motel shortage” may have been a plausible excuse a month ago (although it didn’t prevent the governor from extend — sorry, pausing — the program, so it was probably bullshit all along), but it definitely fails the smell test now.

I mentioned blackmail. The state is offering a one-time payment of $2,500 to those in emergency housing, to help them find regular housing. Which is ridiculous. According to 2020 figures from the federal government, rental housing prices are lowest in Essex County at $762/month for a 2-bedroom unit, and highest in the Burlington area at $1,573. Those numbers are likely higher in 2021.

So, you take that $2,500 and you can buy about three months’ rent in the Northeast Kingdom or about six weeks’ worth in Burlington. Never mind food and stuff like that.

And this is assuming you can even find an apartment — the vacancy rate in Chittenden County has been under two percent lately, which is about as low as it can go. The rate for all of Vermont is 4.6%, still low enough to give landlords a serious case of the giggles.

And to get that $2,500, you have to essentially remove yourself from emergency-housing eligibility. So each client faces a choice between two evils: Subject themselves to the mercies of the rental housing market, or forfeit the cash and stay in a program the governor is desperately trying to kill.

Look at all of this. Is it, in any logical, moral or ethical sense, protecting the most vulnerable? Hell, no. And, given the federally-induced swell in Vermont’s finances, it’s absolutely unnecessary.

Today brought news of New Hampshire’s Executive Council rejecting $27 million in federal funds to help promote vaccination. The vote was widely seen as a measure of the radicalization of the Council. And here is putatively moderate Phil Scott doing the same thing: Rejecting federal funds that could greatly ease a critical situation.

Between this and his stubborn Covid policy, I’m beginning to wonder exactly how moderate this 2021 Phil Scott really is.


1 thought on “A Heartless Policy in Search of a Rationale

  1. Walter Carpenter

    “Between this and his stubborn Covid policy, I’m beginning to wonder exactly how moderate this 2021 Phil Scott really is.”

    Perhaps it’s all about the election coming up this year, with Scott trying to show how tough he can be on the helpless and vulnerable to appease the base and the big money people who think homelessness is our fault.


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