Tag Archives: Anne Wallace Allen

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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Panic on Church Street

The Church Street Marketplace (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

The good merchants of Burlington’s Church Street are up in arms over an alleged plague of loitering and related bad behavior. Or, as several dozen of them described their charming streetscape in a letter to Chittenden County state senators, “public intoxication, open drug use, public urination and defecation, public sex acts, aggressive and harassing behavior, commandeering and blocking public thoroughfares, and sleeping or camping in both private and public spaces.”

Ick. Well, I haven’t been on Church Street since the pandemic hit, but that sounds more like my old stomping grounds in Detroit (pictured above) than the crown jewel of Vermont downtowns.

Anyway, they are asking for tougher state laws on various abuses of the common. And their lament drew a quick and caustic response from the progressive Twitterverse. “Bicycles & Books” wrote, “Throwing more cops at a problem is never the solution.” Josh Lisenby added, “Merchants want to lock up the poor.” Mairead Catherine suggested a boycott of the merchants.

And this from Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George:

But actually, I feel quite a bit of sympathy for the merchants. They’re suffering from two consecutive seasons, with no end in sight, of greatly reduced foot traffic on the Marketplace. If the pandemic continues much longer, which it seems certain to do, it’s very likely that one-third or more of those merchants will be out of business within months. A lot of people would suffer, a lot of workers would lose jobs, and Church Street would be in danger of losing the critical mass of merchants it needs to remain vibrant.

The merchants can’t do anything about Covid-19, so they’re looking for anything else that might help. But no, making criminals of the least among us is not the answer.

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