Senate Budget Writers Set to Build Part of the Bridge — On the Other Side of the Canyon

The Senate Appropriations Committee is very close to approving a budget item for housing, and it’s not good news for the 1,800 households currently living in motels and hotels under a state program set to expire in little more than two months.

The committee didn’t take final action Thursday, but is likely to do so Friday — or Monday at the latest. Chair Jane Kitchel made it clear that there won’t be a substantial additional commitment to housing. There is room to shift some money around, but that’s about all.

The committee would spend some money to boost housing for the unhoused, but only enough to make a dent in this critical shortage. And it would not spend a dime to extend the motel voucher program that currently provides shelter for 80% of Vermont’s unhoused and is set to expire no later than June 30. In short, Approps would start construction on a bridge to housing — but only part of the bridge on the other side of the canyon.

This threatens to be, as I have argued before, a moral, financial and political catastrophe. It seems that legislative Democrats believe the blame will fall on Gov. Phil Scott. It should; his administration has failed repeatedly to make any plans for transitioning off the voucher program. But the Legislature appears ready to march toward the abyss alongside the governor, and they’re in for their share of the blame — if not more.

The plan before Senate Appropriations would provide a total of $60 million for housing. $10 million would go toward enhancing shelter capacity and related support services. The other $50 million would pay for “the production and preservation of affordable mixed-income rental housing and homeownership units.” That would include permanent housing for the unhoused, but would not be limited to that purpose.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board would be tasked with spending the money to address a number of housing issues, not just homelessness:

…including but not limited to improvements to manufactured homes and communities, permanent homes for those experiencing homelessness, recovery residences, and housing available to farm workers and refugees. The Board is asked to target at least 15 percent of units for households experiencing homelessness…

That’s not nearly enough to fund the Vermont Homebridge plan (downloadable here) outlined last week by housing advocates. Homebridge calls for $10 million for shelter and support services and $50 million entirely for permanent housing for homeless Vermonters. The Senate Appropriations plan would put up a fraction of that amount.

The real badness, though, is in the complete stiffing of the voucher program that currently keeps 1,800 Vermont households from being left to their own devices in an overheated housing market that offers few options for anyone, let alone Vermont’s most vulnerable.

You remember our most vulnerable, don’t you? They’re the ones Scott has promised to protect since Day One of his administration. They’re also the ones that the House majority bragged about protecting in a budget plan that offered nothing for motel vouchers. I eagerly await the Senate majority’s press release making the same empty claims.

Look, nobody likes the voucher program. Well, nobody except the people who realize it’s their only ticket to having a roof over their heads. But apparently they don’t count. Policymakers don’t like it because it’s sloppy and wasteful and imperfect. All true. Problem is, they have failed to craft an alternative. That’s their job. That’s their responsibility.

But they won’t be the ones who pay the price, except perhaps in reputation.

Much of my decade-plus of observing Vermont politics has been spent decrying the timidity of the Legislature’s Democratic majority. But I have rarely, if ever, been as angry about any issue as I am about this.

Also confused. Strip away the moral dimensions, and you’re left with a political embarrassment of epic proportions and costs to the public sector that will far exceed the price tag of extending the voucher program a while longer. These people are supposed to be politically savvy. They are allegedly our best and brightest. They aren’t acting like it.

If the voucher program does end and thousands of Vermonters are left without a roof over their heads, here’s hoping there will be copious, nay endless, media coverage of mass evictions and the resultant spread of ad hoc encampments, overcrowding in our emergency rooms, and occupation of our downtown streetscapes. It’d be exactly what our political leaders deserve.


The full text of the housing plan currently before Senate Appropriations:


2 thoughts on “Senate Budget Writers Set to Build Part of the Bridge — On the Other Side of the Canyon

  1. Fubarvt

    “Vermont politics has been spent decrying the timidity of the Legislature’s Democratic majority.”

    And the larger majorities we keep giving them, the more timid they seem to get too.

  2. zim

    Site visits in Stowe and Middlebury this week. The rich are building and building….10 year old 3000 sqft home in Middlebury on large lot. Absolutely nothing wrong with it but new owners are spending close to a mil to gut it and near double its size. F-ing criminal waste of resources but hey, its good for the economy and town tax revenues. I could build ten 1200sqft homes for they are spending on the property and construction. Most likely for a family of three. Probably an abnb stuffed in there somewhere. I see a lot of that.

    Up in Stowe….well a lot of work up there in new builds as well as the never ending expanding and renovating of the already opulent domains of our oligarchy. This is America – Vermont for the rich – love it or leave!


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