House Democrats Are Told How They Could Avoid a Humanitarian Disaster, and They Said “No Thanks”

If there’s anyone on this earth who could understandably be Sick Of This Shit, it’s Anne Sosin, pictured above in a space that Room Rater wold give at least eight out of 10. (“Nice window, background not too busy, solid but unpretentious bookshelf.”) Sosin has gone from arch-critic of Gov. Phil Scott’s Covid policies to interim head of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, where she’s taken on the thankless task of developing plans to tackle the housing crisis that House Democrats routinely ignore.

On Thursday morning, Sosin appeared before the House General & Housing Committee with an articulate, well-researched and professional presentation on why it makes moral, political, and financial sense to address our crisis of housing insecurity. Her presentation was entitled “The Cost of Inaction on Homelessness and Eviction.” (Video available here; Sosin begins at the two-minute mark. Her presentation is downloadable here.)

The committee listened politely and sent her away. And within roughly 12 hours, the full House had approved a budget that ignored her testimony.

In other words, the cake was baked before Sosin got into the kitchen. Her appearance was nothing but window dressing.

(I’ll also note that committee chair Tom Stevens mispronounced her last name, which betrays a certain lack of engagement, especially since this wasn’t her first appearance before his committee.)

(It’s SOSS-in, not “SO-sin.”)

The House budget does include the last-ditch $20 million add to housing — $10 million to purchase vacant mobile homes and another $10 million in support services — but not a dime more. Sosin made it clear the additional money is appreciated, but is nowhere near enough to avoid a humanitarian disaster looming when the emergency motel voucher program is allowed to end this summer.

But her Thursday presentation was short on that pesky morality stuff, and long on the fincial implications of doing nothing. “When we cut funding for homelessness, we’re simply displacing those costs and impacts.” she said. Those costs and impacts, she explained, are mainly felt at the municipal level, which I guess means it’s no skin off state budget-writers’ noses. Affected sectors, besides towns and cities, are “health systems, criminal justice systems, schools and public services.”

And since homelessness is a risk factor for future health issues, substance use, personal safety, and mental health, the costs will be borne indefinitely into the future — but fixing the problem would require some up-front investment, so let’s just kick that can down the road.

Sosin walked the committee through studies and experiences in other jurisdictions where a substantial effort to reduce homelessness lowered overall public sector expenses. Example from the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

A chronically homeless person costs the taxpayer an average of $35,578 per year. Costs on average are reduced by 49.5% when they are placed in supportive housing. Supportive housing costs on average $12,800, making the net savings roughly $4,800 per year.

How about that. The humane thing to do is also the fidiuciarily responsible thing to do.

The committee was having none of it. There were very few questions for Sosin, and only one hinted at the humanitarian disaster we’re walking into. Rep. Mollie Burke Elizabeth Burrows* noted that 75% of homeless households include at least one person with disabilities. “I simply wish to voice a concern, which is that we keep hearing this statistic and then when we discuss solutions… it drops right out of the conversation.

*I heard chair Stevens call on “Representative Burke,” or I thought I did. It was Burrows. Burke is not on this committee.

To which Stevens replied, “OK,” and thanked Sosin for her testimony.

Stevens himself seemed to argue for not even trying. “if we were to magically put 2,000 units around the state… that’s a serious chunk of money. But in six months I feel like we’d still see more people homeless.”

He did not cite sources for his “feel.” Yes, we have a problem with lack of affordable housing, especially rental housing, and Sosin agreed that all facets of housing insecurity need to be addressed, not just expanded shelter. But to argue that providing shelter to current voucher clients would lead to an increase in homelessness seems like an extreme way to evade responsibility.

But for a moment, let’s say Stevens’ argument is true. Then if we DON’T “magically put 2,000 units around the state,” then we’ll have more than twice as many homeless, right? The human and moral catastrophe will be that much bigger. His argument can be taken as a clarion call for drastic and immediate intervention. I mean, right now we’ve got the second highest rate of homelessness in the country. Does Stevens want us to be number one?

And his use of “magically,” I can’t even.

It makes me tired, and I didn’t put in the time and effort to craft a well-reasoned presentation for the committee — and the full House — to ignore. So now the budget heads to the Senate, so there’s still hope. As for the House and its Democratic supermajority, well, they’ve failed to confront our looming crisis of homelessness. And they should bear their share of the blame if the worst comes to pass.


1 thought on “House Democrats Are Told How They Could Avoid a Humanitarian Disaster, and They Said “No Thanks”

  1. Fubarvt

    What’s the point of electing democrats if they do this just so they can avoid the charge of big government or whatever?

    There is no point.

    Unfortunately, no one wants to confront what is really causing our rampant homelessness: low wages, poverty, and the unregulated greed of the rental market


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s