The fix was in from the start. There was never any serious consideration given by any legislative committee or political party, for that matter, to addressing the tsunami of homelessness that’s headed our way this summer. At hearing after hearing, in committee after committee, housing advocates were given brief windows to testify, and their testimony was dismissed as quickly as it was delivered.
The most blatant example happened Friday afternoon in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which was finishing its work on the FY2024 budget. In presenting the housing section of the budget, committee chair Jane Kitchel brought up the advocates’ “desire” to continue the motel voucher program beyond July 1.
Yep, “desire.” She used that word not once, not twice, but three times. “Desire” as in a deep-seated inexplicable craving, not a reasoned policy choice.
Look. Nobody “desires” to continue the voucher program. It’s a flawed and inefficient piece of patchwork. But it’s the only available way to prevent the sudden unhousing of thousands of Vermonters this summer.
Kitchel also omitted the rest of the advocates’ proposal. They put forward a solid, proven plan to use the voucher program as a temporary bridge to more permanent solutions. Pssh, details. Kitchel closed her colloquy by explaining, “I want to raise that because I don’t want anyone to think that I did not bring this up for discussion.”
Gee, thanks. Bring it up by mischaracterizing it and making it clear that any actual discussion would be unwelcome. Not that members of the committee were interested in exploring the subject. They didn’t want to spend any more time on the issue than they had to. There was a lot of looking downward, staring into the distance, shuffling of papers, studious checking of electronic devices, and hardly any discussion.
Kitchel did mention one advocate by name: “I have been getting testimony from Brenda Siegel, who is an advocate for housing, basically saying that it is a matter of, uh, uh, threat to life, um, if we don’t, um, keep the program as we know it now.”
“Threat to life.” That sounds urgent.
Nah. “There is, and I don’t want to put it out as it should become the norm, if there is, in fact, something that’s life-threatening, and that, the Department [of Children and Families] does have the ability to make exceptions to an emergency situation.”
I love a nice generous bowl of word salad, don’t you?
Kitchel is right that emergency accommodations are always possible. But that’s no way to run a railroad. “Emergency” is going to be closely defined, and won’t include the vast majority of voucher recipients.
Kitchel’s argument was echoed by committee member Ginny Lyons, who’s also chair of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. She argued that the state will help “people who have needs,” like those with disabilities. “We’re not going to send them out on the street,” she said.
Oh, and then came the empty sympathy.
I am very aware, very sympathetic, and I understand the requests that we’re getting. It would be great if we were two years back, and putting this in place. We’re not there right now.
Yeah, it would have been “great” if our policymakers had developed a comprehensive fix instead of cranking out the vouchers until the money ran out. But they failed to do so. And if I recall correctly, Lyons herself had a seat at that table.
But wait, there’s more! “I’d feel terrible if we thought 1,000 people were to be put out on the street,” Lyons said. “But I don’t think that’s reality.”
Lyons offered no evidence for this happy thought. But it’s good to know she would feel “terrible” if loads of people are unsheltered. They can take comfort in her discomfort.
But our political leaders aren’t responsible for this situation. Their hands are tied. You see, the motel voucher program was, per Kitchel, “an expedient response to a public health emergency.” And now that Covid is, well, not an emergency any more, the program has to end.
Never mind that Vermont’s housing market went bananas in the meantime, thus creating a housing emergency separate from the public health emergency. Never mind all the testimony from motel residents, gathered by Siegel, that shows how the vouchers have stabilized their lives, allowing them to hold jobs and receive medical treatment and giving them the space to get their lives together. Nope, we set up the program for one purpose and one purpose only, and that’s over now so tough shit.
Wait, that’s unfair. They didn’t say “tough shit.” They expressed sympathy. They were discomfited by the idea of mass homelessness. Ginny Lyons would “feel terrible” if thousands were put out on the street.
But sorry, folks, there’s nothing they can do. Hopes and prayers, y’all.
I read the Digger write up on Friday and Ginni Lyons disgusted me. She needs to lose her next election. Her callousness and politically stupid statement write an opponent’s ads. I am surprised how dumb her statement is but not surprised at the general shitty shifty NIMBY attitudes on display.