Addressing Vermont’s housing crisis is one of the legislature’s top agenda items this year – as it has been for the last four years. There are many factors creating the challenge we face. Vermont has been underbuilding new housing units since the 1980s, and add to that the Covid pandemic, the loss of housing because of the flooding of 2023, an increase in homelessness, the conversion of units from full-time housing to short-term rentals, Covid and climate refugees, inflation, and the ever-increasing cost of building.
Thanks to the infusion of Covid-related federal dollars, Vermont has invested over $500 million in the last four years into housing: new affordable and mixed income housing, the conversion of motels into residential housing, supportive housing, middle income housing, renovations of vacant, blighted, and non-code compliant housing, the creation of accessory dwelling units, and tax credits which enable a great deal of this construction. And, we have created more “by-right” opportunities for growth, and reduced some of the regulatory barriers to development in our downtowns and village centers.
Obviously, our state government is not in the business of building homes. But we can support private development by creating incentives, which enable the public good – more housing. Through direct cash investments, tax credits, reducing duplicative zoning and permitting, and reducing regulatory burdens, we can encourage housing and commercial development in areas we have prioritized for growth.
As a result of our work in the last four years, thousands of units have been built or are being built. They will not be enough. According to the Vermont Housing and Financing Agency, Vermont needs to build 30,000-40,000 more housing units. So, the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs (SEDHGA) Committee, my “morning” committee and the one of which I am vice chair, is in the process of developing part two of last year’s HOME bill, S.100/Act 47.
While we are just beginning this work, I thought I’d share some of the measures we are contemplating now. One of the first aspects of this year’s bill is to embrace the recommendations to update aspects of Act 250. Even though the vast majority of Act 250 permits are approved in a timely fashion, many developers view Act 250 warily and try to avoid triggering its application. The legislature asked for a task force to review Act 250, and the Natural Resources Board (which manages Act 250) oversaw this huge task. The result is a report entitled: “Necessary Updates to Act 250.” A summary presentation is available at https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2024/WorkGroups/Senate%20Economic%20Development/Housing/W~Pete%20Gill~Natural%20Resources%20Board%20Necessary%20Updates%20to%20Act%20250~1-10-2024.pdf.
This report envisions development in compact settlement areas, and facilitates rural economic development while further protecting critical natural resources and our backcountry by creating Tiers 1 (1A and 1B), 2, and 3, to clarify what kind of development is appropriate where. The hope is to establish a clear, consistent, and navigable permit process, and minimize redundancies with other local, state, and federal regulations. For the tiers system to be fully implemented, further mapping work needs to be done by our towns and regional planners.
This is a consensus report, and while the task force agreed on a great deal, they could not come to agreement on limiting the appeals process. Our SEDHGA Committee will try and identify ways to limit the time and number of appeals possible with a project. Our hope is that this effort, coupled with the work of the task force, will reduce regulatory barriers in our areas designated for density and growth.
In this bill the committee will also be addressing how we further protect our community centers from further flooding, convert commercial and underused properties into housing units, incentivize more middle income housing, prevent homelessness, increase public safety in housing developments, enhance people’s credit scores by including their timely rental payments, create a state-wide rental registry, and incorporate recommendations from our Mobile Home Task Force of 2023 and proposals to streamline our Designation Programs.
I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at the statehouse, Tuesday-Friday, at 802-828-2228, or at home, Saturday-Monday, at 802-457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: www.legislature.vermont.gov.
Windsor District Senator