Vermont’s legislature adjourned in May after increasing funding for affordable housing and passing legislation to protect renters from unsafe building conditions and address discrimination and systemic racism in housing. Advocates worked with state legislators to advance these legislative aims and to make the needed compromises to prevent a gubernatorial veto. While some important pieces of legislation – such as a just-cause eviction measure in the city of Burlington – were ultimately vetoed by the governor, many important improvements have already been signed into law this year.
Advocates pressured Vermont’s legislature to increase the base funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), which administers state funding for affordable housing and works to increase housing availability. VHCB’s main source of funding is a percentage of the property transfer tax (PTT). However, the state has routinely failed to provide full statutory base funding to VHCB. This year, the legislature increased the base funding by $10 million – twice what it received in previous years. Though still only two-thirds of its full statutory funding, the increase represents a large investment in affordable housing. VHCB also received significant allocations of the state’s “American Rescue Plan Act” (ARPA) dollars to support specific projects.
The Rental Housing Safety Bill (S. 210) was passed by the legislature on May 11 and signed by Governor Phil Scott on June 2. The legislation establishes a complaint-based inspection system within the statewide Division of Fire Safety to address unsafe building conditions which are prevalent among Vermont’s aging housing stock. The Division will respond to complaints from renters, landlords, and neighbors and enforce health and housing codes. $400,000 was allocated from Vermont’s ARPA funding to establish the inspection system, with future funding expected to come through general funds.
S. 210 also provides $20 million in ARPA funding for the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (VHIP). The program would award grants or loans of up to $50,000 to landlords to fix rental housing that is not up to code, as well as to create new accessory dwelling units. The intent of this program is to convert Vermont’s derelict housing into rentable housing. Landlords must give preference to people experiencing homelessness, refugees, or people making less than 80 percent of area median income when they rent out the refurbished or new units.
More expansive Rental Housing Safety legislation was passed by the legislature last year but vetoed by the governor. This year, the legislature and advocates reintroduced a substantively similar bill while attempting to satisfy the concerns in the governor’s veto. Ultimately, a statewide registry of rental properties was eliminated from the bill to prevent another veto threat from the governor. Advocates remain committed to working on the registry in the future.
A Housing Omnibus bill (S. 226) was also approved by the legislature and includes provisions to:
- Establish a Housing Equity Council to support inclusive development projects.
- Reduce barriers to multifamily housing and accessory dwelling unit development.
- Reduce discrimination and systemic racism in statewide housing programs.
- Establish a Land Access and Opportunity Board to address structural racism and prevalent wealth disparities that cause barriers to land and homeownership.
The Housing Omnibus Bill and other affordable housing wins were a direct result of a successful advocacy campaign that took advantage of political will and long-standing priorities. The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC), an NLIHC state partner, and a broad group of diverse partners led the charge to advance certain legislative housing priorities that will impact long-term housing availability and access to quality homes across the state.
“There was a lot of conversation around this bill on its impact on permanently affordable housing, and it includes pieces to address [it],” says David Martins, VAHC director. “Advocates and legislators wanted to know: how do we keep these investments affordable perpetually? This is a very big change in the tenor of the conversation and means that advocates have done their job well over the past 30 years.”
Even with these pieces of legislation making a meaningful contribution to safe and affordable housing in the state, more work still needs to be done. The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition and other advocates across the state will continue to advocate for additional investments and long-term funding in future legislative sessions.
“We’re excited about the high level of funding made available and the innovative approaches being taken to create much needed housing for low- and middle-income Vermonters,” says Michelle Kersey, VAHC chair. “While the housing crisis won’t be solved overnight, this is a great start.”