The Curious Incident of the Moose in the Night-Time

Well, the Democrats seem bound and determined to enable a disastrous unsheltering of thousands of Vermonters this summer. But surely we can count on the stalwarts of the Progressive Party to raise a ruckus.


Err, no.

The Progs have been resolutely silent about the approaching end of the motel voucher program and the absence of options for its 2,500-plus clients. Indeed, some of the Progs’ most stalwart lawmakers have taken an active role in crafting a pinch-penny plan that’s like prepping an offramp on the far side of a canyon while not doing anything about the canyon itself.

Let’s name some names, shall we?

A few weeks ago, the House Human Services Committee and the General & Housing Committee created a working group to hammer out a plan. Human Services’ role was primarily on the emergency/temporary shelter side, while G&H was working on longer-term housing supply. The idea was to create a cohesive plan to get from here to Housing for Everybody.

The lawmakers chosen for this working group included a bunch of progressive types. Prog/Dem Taylor Small and leftist Democrat Jubilee McGill represented Human Services, while the G&H team included former House Progressive caucus leader (and now Democratic lawmaker) Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Dem/Prog Elizabeth Burrows.

They came up with a plan that fit neatly within the slender parameters seemingly imposed by House leadership (which in turn, are within the grim financial limits set by Gov. Phil Scott in his FY24 budget). And they presented their work with pride.

Small and McGee reported their plan to Human Services on March 22 (their presentation starts at about the 43-minute mark of this video). Small described the plan as “all-encompassing.”

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, I don’t think that word means what you think it means. The plan is, in fact, almost completely lacking in accommodation for the clients of the motel voucher program. It does include some funds for a winter-only voucher program, but otherwise it’s a decent attempt to build that ramp on the other side of the canyon even as we’re speeding toward the edge.

Small explained it as an attempt to address “this revolving door” of people losing their housing and entering the voucher program even as current clients are helped into more stable kinds of housing. That’s fine, but there’s still that gaping canyon right in front of us.

The working group set deadlines for state officials to devise plans to close the revolving door and permanently reduce homelessness. But those deadlines are in the future, and right now is when people are about to be unhoused and we still have some federal Covid relief money to invest. The working group’s plan also has provisions for enabling the construction of shelters, limits on rent increases and security deposits, and an end to no-cause evictions.

The working group’s goal: to reduce homelessness by 25% by the year 2025. But that does nothing for the current crisis. And, as Small noted, “None of these pieces are under current consideration before House. There is no legislation yet.” So even this plan is far from guaranteed.

The active, nay eager, participation by Progressive lawmakers in this dispiriting process is matched by silence from the party itself. Check out the Progs’ “Legislative Update” page. In reverse order,they promote legislation to protect working Vermonters, oppose a Dem-sponsored election reform bill, support justice reform, oppose that election reform bill again, promote paid family leave, oppose a Scott administration plan to put state retirees on Medicare Advantage programs, and support shield laws and reproductive justice.

That takes us back to the first of the year. Nothing about the emergency voucher program which, at the time, was slated to end on March 31. Nothing about the current discussion of emergency housing in the FY24 budget. Elsewhere on their website, the Progs oppose the Vermont State University “It’s still a library, just with hardly any books” plan and support striking workers at Goddard College.

In late December, the party’s legislative delegation issued its list of legislative priorities for the 2023-24 biennium. Nowhere on there will you find emergency housing or homelessness. A paragraph entitled “Economic Dignity” addressed workplace protections and workers’ rights, living wages, housing policy that supports “tenants and low to moderate income homeowners,” and universal paid leave.

That’s a lot of stuff about working Vermonters, and not a peep about homeless Vermonters. It’s not curious; it’s downright weird.

The Dems’ acquiescence in the governor’s framing of the voucher issue is disappointing for anyone who helped elect legislative supermajorities big enough to enact small-p progressive policies in spite of Phil Scott. The Progressuives’ silence is equally disappointing for those who support the party as a counterbalance to the centrist tendencies of the Vermont Democratic Party.

So where do you go if you want to avoid the looming humanitarian crisis our legislators seem intent on ignoring? Housing advocates and groups are doing their damndest, but there seems to be no one in our government or our political parties who cares enough to make something happen. Including the Progressives.


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