Vermont’s recent legislative session included both wins and setbacks for housing advocates. Vermont advocates secured historic levels of funding for affordable housing in the state’s FY22 budget, but Governor Phil Scott vetoed “An Act Relating to Improving Rental Housing and Safety” (S.79), which would have standardized and improved the system of code enforcement and rental housing safety.
The FY22 state budget bill (H. 439) included critical funding for multiple affordable housing programs. The Legislature allocated $168.8 million for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), the key state agency in funding non-profit affordable housing development. Of the appropriation, $144 million is dedicated to housing. In tandem with VHCB’s annual base budget, the funding represents the highest allocation to affordable housing in the state’s history. Funding targets initiatives that increase permanent housing, temporary shelter facilities, safe shelters and housing for low-income and at-risk populations, and “affordable housing initiatives” that range from housing for farmworkers to mixed-income housing. The budget bill fund weatherization and climate-related measures.
The budget bill also includes $31 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for programs such as the Affordable Community-Scale Renewable Energy Program, Efficiency Vermont’s Electric Efficiency Fund, and the Home Weatherization Assistance Program. In addition, $41 million was allocated to the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program, including $30 million to cover motel room fees. The transportation bill (H.433) invests in efficient, safe, and renewable transportation and electric vehicle infrastructure for qualified non-profit dwellings.
Despite these victories, advocates were disappointed with the Governor Scott’s decision to veto the Rental Housing Safety Bill. Housing advocates across the state fought for the bill, which presented an opportunity to improve the state’s aging housing stock by standardizing code enforcement, increasing awareness of housing resources, and offering rehabilitation money to landlords and new homeowners. Provisions included creating a statewide rental registry, shifting the responsibility of rental safety inspection and code enforcement from municipalities to the Division of Fire Safety, clarifying regulations related to the eviction moratorium, and establishing the Vermont Housing Investment Program and a Homeownership Revolving Loan Fund.
The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, an NLIHC state partner, championed the bill alongside including Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Landlords Association, and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. The governor stated that while he was committed to improving Vermont’s long-term rental housing stock, he believed the legislation would “discourage everyday Vermonters from offering their homes, rooms, or summer cabins for rent, not as a primary business but as a means to supplement their income.” He urged the legislature to continue supporting the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program and the Vermont Homeownership Revolving Loan Fund, which also received funding through the FY22 appropriations bill.
“The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition represents more than 90 organizations that create, manage, and promote affordable housing,” said Cindy Reid, chair of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition Steering Committee. “We strongly supported S.79, the statewide rental housing safety bill. While we are disappointed by the governor’s veto, we will continue to work to advance this legislation – this is a setback not a defeat. The governor has been a huge supporter of housing efforts in Vermont – we will work with him and his administration to find a way to advance this bill.”
Learn more about the 2021 legislative session in Vermont at: https://tinyurl.com/59xkskvp