Vermont lawmakers turn focus towards housing crisis

Vermont News

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — In the Vermont Senate, lawmakers are turning their attention toward the housing crisis. Between the amount of housing bills that have already been introduced and those on their way, lawmakers in the Senate Economic Development Committee want to wrap all of the ideas together in an omnibus bill.

By the end of next year, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board will have brought more than 1,100 new apartments online across the state, almost half of them set aside for people experiencing homelessness. It’s a steady pace, but Executive Director Gus Seelig said it’s far from a victory lap.

“Housing is being produced at a rate that is much, much faster than had been the case in the previous seven years,” Seelig said. He was one of several officials who updated the committee on the scope of Vermont’s housing woes. “We could double the rate of production for the next decade, and we’re still not going to catch up.”

As the Senate Economic Development Committee decides which issues should be tackled first, state officials are making it clear that Act 250 reform remains at the top of their wish list. They believe if some of the red tape could just be cut from the permitting process, developers would have a fighting chance at keeping up with the skyrocketing demand for housing.

“We need to be pro-housing growth, and we haven’t been for decades. There’s smart ways to do that and we’re getting at those, whether it’s exemptions from Act 250, encouraging towns to allow more density and more creative housing solutions,” said Josh Hanford, Commissioner of the VT Department of Housing and Community Development. “All those aspects are foundational toward what we need to do to shift toward keeping up with our housing demand.”

Housing experts outside state government are calling for long overdue renovations to federal public housing, much of which was built in the sixties and seventies. Christine Hart, Executive Director of the Brattleboro Housing Partnership, said it’s not just that these units are old, they’re also an inefficient use of the spaces they occupy.

“We could easily double or triple the density on these sites and have new neighborhoods in or around the downtown where many of these are located. As a state, we are now the recipient of significant Federal dollars for housing, and I strongly advocate that some of these funds be directed to public housing.”

Committee Chair Senator Michael Sirotkin said testimony from Wednesday will help shape what we could see in the omnibus bill. He’d like to introduce it as a committee bill, which would have to be done by January 31.

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