Hand-Wringing at House General

Now that we’re within shouting distance of adjournment, it is belatedly dawning on the Legislature that something terrible is about to happen. After months of studiously avoiding the implications of ending the motel voucher program this summer, many lawmakers have awakened as if from a deep slumber, looked around, and realized that the state is about to evict more than 2,000 people in one fell swoop. Well, two fell swoops, one at the end of May and the other at the end of June.

This afternoon, the House General & Housing Committee devoted an entire hour to some heartfelt wailing and gnashing of teeth. (The second hour of this two-hour hearing archived on YouTube.) Members got a statistical breakdown of the situation from Scott administration officials (downloadable from the committee’s “Documents” list) and then spent some time making statements like “This is awful. Isn’t there something we can do?”

It was not an inspiring performance. This committee has been involved in discussions about emergency housing and the voucher program. Two of its members helped devise a budget item that sunsetted the voucher program, and that item was then presented to the entire committee. There was testimony from people in the housing advocacy community who made clear the direness of the situation and who presented well-crafted, doable solutions. Members seemed to have absorbed little to nothing of those presentations.

The hour was basically a discussion involving members of House General and three figures from the Scott administration. The latter brought a slide presentation full of statistics about our current epidemic of homelessness, how many are housed under the voucher program, how many won’t be housed when the program ends, and some of the obstacles they face in keeping their lives together. There were also several very busy and confusing pages of flowcharts showing how the state plans to address the crisis — which does not include any additional housing, mind you. It was just as depressing as you might expect.

Let’s start with the above graph. The blue line shows a rise in homelessness that began during the Covid pandemic — but has only continued to worsen, even as the economic effects of the pandemic have waned. That blue line tells you that the numbers of unhoused have less to do with Covid than with the state’s dire shortage of housing. The blue line doesn’t track with the pandemic; it does track with Vermont’s red-hot housing market.

So, Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers may insist the voucher program was created in response to Covid-19 and has to end now that the pandemic is “behind us,” but that link was long ago severed. In fact, the program is more urgently needed now than at the height of the pandemic.

The state’s official figures for the unhoused: 1,822 households in the voucher program, roughly 500 sheltered through other emergency programs, and “only” 150 currently unhoused. That figure is going to skyrocket if the voucher program ends as scheduled.

Administration officials offered a breakdown of eligibility categories. The most dismaying figure is 565. That’s the number of voucher households including at least one person with disabilities. Yep, most of them are headed for the streets. There are also 329 families with children and 82 households with members aged 60 or more.

The presentation included county-by-county breakdowns of the number of households who will be unsheltered. It’s very bad news for Rutland County, which has nearly 500 households in the voucher program. Also in line for a big bump in homelessness: Chittenden County with 381 households, Windham with 216, and Washington with 208. None of those counties have any available shelter capacity to speak of. Overall, roughly 1,800 households will lose eligibility, while only about 150 will still be in the program. And the eligibility criteria are, shall we say, dismaying. They were clearly written with cost considerations at front of mind and compassion barely registering.

Households will be eligible for up to 84 days in a motel if they’ve experienced fire, flood or natural disaster; death of a spouse or minor child; court-ordered eviction; or domestic violence. Those folks are gonna use up those 84 days in a hurry.

Others will see a 28-day limit on total motel time. They include people 65 or older, those receiving SSI or SSDI payments, families with children 6 years of age or younger, and people in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Need I point out that the elderly won’t get any younger and those with disabilities won’t get any less so after 28 days, or that the third trimester is more like 72 days?

After the presentation, lawmakers held a remarkably feeble “brainstorming” session, tossing around this or that idea for interim sheltering. None were especially practical or impactful. And it’s stunning that this is what they’re doing at this late date. It’s the kind of open-ended thinking that should have been done months ago in a room full of whiteboards.

Besides, if they’d bothered listening to housing advocates, they wouldn’t be fumbling around in the dark. They’d already have a solid menu of ideas that could be done quickly, cheaply, and/or most impactfully.

Instead, we got a bunch of hand-wringing. If only there was something we could do! Isn’t there anything we could do? I guess not. Isn’t it terrible? I feel awful about this.

Unmoored from real-world plans, this pity party went on for a while and then fizzled out. Near the end, committee members felt the need to acknowledge how hard the administration was working on this and how deeply committed state officials are. There was no reference to the administration’s culpability for the situation we’re in. Why no plans before now? Why just let the program go and go with inadequate investment in solutions? Why no transition plan besides simply evicting the vast majority of voucher clients?

In short, how the hell did we get here, who was responsible, and which heads ought to roll?

None of that. The meeting was far too polite for that.

I can’t say I came away from it with any optimism whatsoever. There was hand-wringing and mutual commiseration but no plans were made, no direction was even sketched out.

Our elected representatives sure do feel baaaaaaad about this. That and a buck-fifty will get you a cup of coffee.


6 thoughts on “Hand-Wringing at House General

  1. montpelier28

    Thank you for the depressing numbers but at least I know the breakdown now. Disgusting. Article in local paper TA about what Berlin can do about encampments, maybe like Montpelier did I believe it said. There will be no place to camp for these people either. Clusterf coming for sure. Old people camping out, disgusting. Little kids, disgusting.

  2. Kelly Cummings

    “Unmoored from real-world plans, this pity party went on for a while and then fizzled out. Near the end, committee members felt the need to acknowledge how hard the administration was working on this and how deeply committed state officials are. There was no reference to the administration’s culpability for the situation we’re in. Why no plans before now? Why just let the program go and go with inadequate investment in solutions? Why no transition plan besides simply evicting the vast majority of voucher clients?”


    “Inadequate investment in solutions.”

    What the heck is going on?

    Meanwhile, in the House Gov. Operations and Military Affairs Committee there seems to be a bit of a rabid-like push to vote out S.39 – An Act relating to compensation and benefits, including health insurance, for members of the Vermont General Assembly. S.39 includes a pretty cushy health insurance plan for legislators. And yes, we will pay for it even though a lot of Vermonters can barely pay for their own inadequate plans.

    According to several members of the committee- the public knows all about it and they don’t have a problem with it. I beg to differ. I can think of a lot of people who have a problem with it, all the people who came to all the hearings over the years and told their healthcare-nightmare stories, ranging from bankruptcy to death. Only to be ignored and have nothing done to deal with an inaccessible and unaffordable health care system to this day.

    Two different things here for sure, but similar non- action taken on both.

    Big problems need big solutions, but seems some of our big problems are just too hard for most of our legislators and Scott to figure out. So they just don’t address them. They just give more excuses and in the end – we’ve got a bigger problem than we started out with.

    At least they haven’t asked the voucher clients to pay for legislators mortgages and rent.

    Not yet anyway.

  3. Joe Patrissi

    Vermont has the second highest homeless rate in the country. It’s not realistic for a part time legislature to come up with a comprehensive plan to really deal with it. The Scott administration needs to present one for approval. Scott, who has protecting the vulnerable as one of his planks along with affordability and the economy is nowhere to be seen. It’s time for a new Governor, one who cares about all Vermonters.

  4. zim

    Vermont use to be the lease psychopathological state in the nation according to this researcher: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3185182. However, the current state of affairs could be explained by a demographic change in the elite mix in Vermont. Looking at Ryan’s research, his ranking of the most states with the most psychopathy happen to be the one’s from where most of Vermont new comers are migrating into: DC, CT, MA, etc. The NE has the most psychopathological traits, rank the highest and urban landscapes far outrank rural ones on the scale.

    In my experience here, as in most places, people are desperate to lick the ass of anyone with money in the hope that some of smell of wealth rubs off and lacking immunity, psychopathic behaviors are contagious: https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/problem-pathocracy

    Vermont is cooked.

    Since you support the neoliberal regime driven mainly by democrats (republicans are right there as well), I imagine your not really against this since it keeps you comfortable and gives you space and time to scribble. I do think you are troubled by the cognitive dissonance or maybe the bad pr that shows your side of the field are bullshit artists and do not give two shits about anyone not affluent. The main task is to keep flow of wealth into your camp by keeping control of the levers of power and gaslighting the public every step of the way.

    You may think you are moral giant up on your soapbox there in your palatial, bucolic Montpelier estate, but really, as a generational character trait, its just old white male boomer larp-ing empathy. If you are as outraged as you claim, get out on the street and organize some resistance, organize the houseless, disorganize the outright theft of peoples lives.


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