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State must triple rate of new home construction, Scott admin says

by Guy Page,

Gov. Phil Scott today promised a big, bold new housing plan for the Legislature to consider when it reconvenes in January.

The plan – details to come – would focus on Act 250 land use changes, regulatory streamlining, and tax credits, he told the press Wednesday, November 8.

Rate of new construction too slow

Vermont needs 40,000 new housing units by 2030, Scott said. The rate of new housing starts would need to triple to meet that goal, state housing officials said at a press conference today.

The rule of thumb considers a 3% home ownership and 5% rental vacancy rate healthy. By that standard, Vermont’s vacancy rate is unhealthy indeed: 3% for rentals and a microscopic .3% homes-for-sale.

State of emergency on the table

A state of emergency – which, for example, would enable the governor to direct the National Guard to build temporary housing – is not off the table, Gov. Scott said. But he would prefer to see land use, regulatory and tax reform to enable more construction.

“This isn’t just about money,” Scott said. “One of the chokepoints is the regulatory system.”

To that end, Scott promised a “major regulatory and tax incentive package. It’s going to take all of us thinking big.”

Housing Commissioner Alex Farrell said Vermont can’t afford to continue the new low-income housing model at $600,000/unit. At that rate, Vermont could spend over $1 billion to build just 2000 new units. Instead, he prefers the Vermont House Improvement Program (VHIP) model of remodeling old urban Victorian homes into apartment houses at $30,000/unit.

Building more hopes will help reduce homelessness, administration says

Increased homelessness is a byproduct of the statewide housing shortage, Dept. of Children and Families Commissioner Chris Winters said.

“The challenge persists because people cannot move forward without housing,” Winters said. “The pace cannot keep up with the growing demand.” In particular, AHS hopes to establish emergency shelters to replace homeless hotels.

Permitting would need to be streamlined to keep neighbors from quashing the shelters just because they don’t like living near them, administration officials said.

The Scott administration hopes adding more housing to the market will lower one of the root causes of homelessness: exorbitantly high rental rates. The administration is seeking to build more recipient accountability into the current hotel/motel voucher system and has outreach workers offering assistance with substance abuse, workforce training, mental health, domestic abuse and other root causes of homelessness.

Reporter James Dwinell asked whether building more homes for the homeless will increase the pool of homeless people: “if you build it, they will come,” he observed. Gov. Scott replied that if you build it, people looking for jobs and a life in Vermont will come, too.


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