Category Archives: Housing

The Autumn of Phil’s Discontent

Is this the worst moment in Gov. Phil Scott’s nearly five years in office? I’d have to say yes. Now, there haven’t been that many bad moments. Maybe the time he vetoed not one but two state budgets and nearly triggered a government shutdown. But that turned out to be a blip on the radar.

This? This could be the first time he suffers real political damage. He’s taking simultaneous hits on three fronts: The continuing Covid surge, his administration’s erratic Covid policy in the schools, and yet another retreat on the emergency housing program. In all three cases, he looks less like a compassionate moderate and more like a stubborn conservative.

I’m not saying he’s vulnerable in 2022. He isn’t yet, but the bloom is coming off the rose.

He’s had to abandon his optimism on the Delta variant and admit he doesn’t know what’s happening. Our seven-day rolling average of new cases is still near record highs, and hospitalizations, deaths, and test positivity rate are all distressingly high. Still, Scott continues to signal no change in policy. The longer he does so, the more embarrassing his inevitable comedown will be. Unless he gets lucky and the Delta variant goes away.

The school situation is not getting better anytime soon. The “test to stay” program is still being rolled out more than six weeks into the school year. The administration has touted the program’s success in Massachusetts, but there’s a big difference. In Massachusetts, the program was implemented in late July. There was time for planning and adjustment before the doors opened to students. Up here, Education Secretary Dan French is like an auto mechanic working on a car while it’s being driven.

Actually, since he hasn’t offered any resources to schools, it’s more like he’s in the passenger seat telling the driver to work on the engine while the car is in motion.

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The Ignorables (Updated with notice of two Legislative hearings)

When last we met, I castigated Gov. Phil Scott for his needlessly cruel posture on the emergency housing program, which he insists on shutting down next Friday when it won’t save the state a damn dime.

This time I’d like to widen the frame, and point out that there ain’t nobody making a public stink about this craven retreat from basic humanity. Well, that’s not entirely true; some people, including tireless advocate and two-time statewide candidate Brenda Siegel, have been banging the drum. Otherwise…

Media? An occasional story on VTDigger, and that’s about it. No questions on the subject at Scott’s Tuesday presser.

Legislative leadership? I haven’t heard a peep*. Maybe that’s because they agreed to the original plan to kill the program last spring, so they feel an uneasy sense of complicity. Or maybe it’s because the unhoused aren’t a core constituency.

Update: Two legislative commitees are holding hearings on the program next week. House General Etc. is on Monday morning at 9:00, Statehouse Room 11 or streamed online. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will meet next Thursday at 10:00 in Statehouse Room 24 and streamed online. Hopefully these hearings will prompt some kind of action, and produce some media attention to the issue.

Vermont Democratic Party? Not as far as I can tell. Nothing on its website. The VDP has issued a measly three press releases (according to my inbox) in the last month-plus, and emergency housing was not mentioned at all.

Vermont Progressive Party? You’d think so, but (again, as far as I can tell and I’m open to correction*) no. No press releases, no public statements.

*Correction: I’ve learned that the Progressive Party issued a press release in favor of continuing the emergency housing program in July, when it was first scheduled to end. Since then, Prog lawmakers have continued to speak out in support of the program.

Why the silence? Because we treat the unhoused as if they’re a separate and inferior species, living among us but not really of us. They are The Ignorables.

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A Heartless Policy in Search of a Rationale

The Phil Scott Memorial Emergency Housing Unit

We are, once again, approaching a deadline to kick hundreds of unhoused people out of their temporary lodgings in hopes that they will (a) find permanent housing in a terribly tight rental market or (b) just go away, please. As of next Friday 10/22, more than 500 households are set to lose their housing. The original deadline was in June, and more than half of those housed in motels were kicked out at that time. State officials agreed to extend it for the neediest clients to September. Then, just before it was to expire, Gov. Phil Scott allowed a 30-day “pause” in terminating the program. He didn’t want to label it an extension because that might seem, I don’t know, too capitulative?

Now we’re waiting to see if another extens — sorry, pause — might be in the works. Meanwhile, anxiety levels must be going through the roof for those hundreds of clients.

But hey, don’t worry; pretty soon they won’t have a roof for their anxiety to go through. See, it all works out.

This is bad and heartless enough. (There’s also an element of blackmail, but more on that later.) But what makes it a moral calamity is that there is no goddamn reason to end this program right now. It’s not costing the state a dime because the feds are paying the freight through the end of this year. Plus, Vermont is swimming in federal Covid relief funds so there’s no excuse for kicking people out onto the street. Or campground, since that’s one resource being offered to the dispossessed.

Remind me again how the governor is devoted to protecting the most vulnerable. Or is that nothing but eyewash?

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A Veepie Special: For All the Bills I’ve Vetoed Before

We’ll get to the regular edition of The Veepies (awarding those who commit acts of stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere) in a day or two. But right now, it’s time for A Very Special Veepie that deserves the solo spotlight.

The honoree is none other than Governor Nice Guy Phil Scott, for adding yet another veto to his all-time record. On Friday he vetoed S.79, a bill that would have established a rental housing registry and enforcement of safety standards. That, in and of itself, is sadly par for the course. But his fractured attempts at explaining the veto? That elevates this one into a class of its own.

The governor argued that the bill would “reduce the number of housing options for Vermonters.” Well, that would be true if some rental units would fail a safety inspection and get pulled from the market, right? And that’s kind of exactly why we need a registry and inspections, right? Because the current “system” of relying on town health inspectors clearly isn’t doing the job.

I mean, the Vermont Chamber of freakin’ Commerce supported the bill and was ““surprised and disappointed” at Scott’s veto. How intrusive could it have been?

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Ain’t No Cure For the Dumbertime Blues: The Veepies, Hot Weather Edition

Here at theVPO Institute for the Study of Political Inadequacy, we have yet to establish a causal link between the weather and incidences of stupidity, but it stands to reason that our current heat wave would fry a few synapses. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what’s new in the land of busted neural connections.

First, and we’ll have to put the Award Factory on double shifts to crank out enough Veepies for these honorees, is the No One Was Driving, Officer, We Were All In the Back Singing Award to the Scott administration, the Legislature, and members of a special “working group” for cutting way back on the “motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness” program without actually, uhh, creating an alternative. Members of the working group have my sympathy; they were given an impossible task and did their best. As VTDigger’s Katie Jickling reported back in March, the working group was established because no one could think of a halfway decent solution. It was a convenient receptacle for a very hot potato.

And the group, faced with the same set of dismaying facts (federal funding going away, not enough state dollars to carry forward, and an overheated real estate market), came up with this little cluster: Eligibility has been significantly tightened, which means that several hundred Vermonters could be tossed out of motel accommodations on July 1 without anywhere else to go. Eligibility will be further tightened on September 22, leaving hundreds more on the streets.

In many areas, rental housing just doesn’t exist. Elsewhere, it’s way too pricey. Homeless service organizations are trying to prepare, which includes arranging supplies of camping equipment. Because hey, nothing says “summer fun” like homelessness! Maybe we can give ’em discount rates at some of the less popular state parks.

There are no easy answers here. But given the fact that we’re currently awash in federal Covid relief funds, is there really an excuse for this massive policy failure? Veepies all around!

After the jump: Burlington Dems need a calendar, a plea to not use a veto session for its intended purpose, a once-respected journalist enters the Conspiracy Zone, and a new low in far-right commentary.

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The Well-Off Are Flocking to Vermont

This graph is wonderful news for those who think Vermont’s economy needs to grow. (It is, as I’ve written before, very bad news for our housing supply.) The pandemic has made our state the most desirable in the nation for affluent Americans.

More desirable than our famously low-tax neighbor, New Hampshire. More desirable than the Sun Belt or the tax havens of Texas and Florida. We’re Number One, baby!

It’s too soon to tell if this dramatic shift will continue. But if it does, then it’s time to rethink our policies across the board, from taxation to education to broadband to economic incentives.

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We’re In a Housing Crisis, Aren’t We?

Anyone who can climb the hill gets a house!

Yeah, I think we are.

Two items in the news:

First, from VTDigger’s Erin Petenko, sales of Vermont homes to out-of-staters reached historic levels last year, presumably driven by the pandemic, and

Second, from Seven Days‘ Anne Wallace Allen, the home building industry has given up on large swaths of Vermont and concentrated its activity in high-flying Chittenden County.

We had a big affordable-housing problem back when we thought coronavirus was something you caught from a tainted beer. It’s gotten worse since then, and the trends are all in the wrong direction.

That $37 million affordable housing bond we proudly enacted in the pre-Covid days of 2017 looks like a drop in the bucket. And Sen. Michael Sirotkin’s proposal for an even bigger Housing Bond 2.0, which has languished in the Legislature for the past two years*, is looking more and more vital.

*Thanks in no small part to the opposition of Treasurer Beth Pearce, whose aversion to public debt rivals the Scroogiest of conservatives.

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It’s the Cluelessness, Stupid

Here in Vermont, we don’t have a lot of over-the-top, Bull Connor-style racism. What we do have in unfortunate abundance is white obliviousness, born (in part) of infrequent interactions with people outside narrow racial, ethnic, social and economic boundaries.

That includes yours truly, and I freely acknowledge the limitations of my own insight. I’m sure I have economy-sized blind spots. But at least I’m just a blogger. The stakes are a lot higher when people in positions of leadership betray their cluelessness.

So, in the same week when a Georgia sheriff’s officer made a complete ass of himself in saying that a white guy who’d killed eight people, six of them Asian women, was “having a bad day,” we’ve got two examples of the same phenomenon right here in Vermont.

First, I think you can guess, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s own goal on police oversight. Second, town officials in Manchester dog-whistling a state program for the homeless.

If you’re only going to read one piece on Weinberger’s blunder, make it state Sen. Kesha Ram’s op-ed on Weinberger and white neutrality. But since she wrote that piece, further developments have made the picture look even worse.

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Adventures in Inadequate Governance, part 1

Sumitted for your approval, three news stories on a common theme: What happens when government isn’t up to the task?

Two are about Covid-19 and nursing homes, which I will address in my next post. Under consideration here, courtesy of VTDigger’s Anne Wallace Allen, is a look at Vermont’s wretched rental housing stock. The headline, “About 7,000 Vermont households lack things like kitchens, bathrooms, or heat,” is a bit exaggerated. But the reality isn’t much better.

Nobody knows exactly how many Vermonters are living in substandard housing.

That 7,000 figure is an upper estimate, so the actual number of households without crucial features may be smaller. But the story’s gut-punch is that oversight of rental housing in Vermont is spotty at best, nonexistent at worst.

The state has a rental housing code but no enforcement mechanism. Several of our larger cities have code-enforcement systems. Elsewhere, it’s entirely up to town health officers. They’re usually untrained volunteers with few resources to conduct their business. James Arisman, who formerly served as Marshfield’s health officer, told VTDigger, “Essentially there is no protection for renters in the state of Vermont by an inspection system that is robust and carrying out routine inspections.”

Yeah, that seems a little problematic.

There are plenty of appalling details, but let’s leave it here: How did we get to the year 2020 with such an archaic “system”? It’s yet another example of the Grandfather’s Lightbulb phenomenon. To wit:

Q: How many Vermonters does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Change it? That was my grandfather’s lightbulb!

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