Keelan: Does Vermont really want new housing units?

By Don Keelan

Addie Lentzner and Erica Jansch are not experts on residential housing development. How would they be? Addie is a senior at Arlington Memorial High School, while Erica is a freshman at Bennington’s Mt. Anthony Union High School. According to Greg Sukiennik’s piece in the July 14, 2021, Bennington Banner, they are advocates for housing the homeless. More specifically, they are requesting Governor Scott’s administration to extend the motel housing benefits for those folks who currently have no place to live once their motel housing vouchers come to an end if they haven’t already.

Lentzner and Jansch join Executive Director Stephanie Lane of the nonprofit organization Shires Housing, who is also in the news advocating for affordable housing throughout Bennington County.

Don Keelan

According to the Banner, on July 13, Lane and several community and state leaders celebrated the renovation of 27 local rental apartments. It was a 10-month project that cost approximately $6.3 million. On a per-unit basis, it was $233,000 just to rehab a unit.

The two high school students must have been pleased with the July 17, 2021, press release by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. According to the Rutland Herald, the board announced the $53.8 million allocation to acquire, fix and build 389 housing units. About 221 will be to house homeless individuals and families or those at risk of becoming homeless.

A number of the projects mentioned in the VHCB’s press release are former motels that will be converted to residential housing units. To meet the homeless segment of Vermont’s housing crisis, it will take a lot more than 221 units. But it is a start.

Homes for the homeless are not the only housing concern. The severe shortage of workforce housing is the most perplexing root cause of why businesses, nonprofits and government agencies have been unable to hire employees. The shortage of labor to build workforce housing only magnifies the problem of building such housing, not to mention the shortage of materials, long delays, as well as the double-digit run-up in cost.

And even if the housing problems did not exist, would there be a boom in workforce housing development? No. But why?

If Vermont communities really wanted to add residential housing units to their existing stock, why haven’t such communities changed their zoning laws, approved timetables, and developed a welcoming attitude to provide for new housing opportunities?

The municipalities surrounding the ski areas of Stowe, Ludlow, Killington, Stratton and Dover welcome home development that has price tags in the multi-millions. But why aren’t all areas of Vermont open to multi-family housing subdivisions? I dare say that I would be skewered if I went to the Arlington, Vermont Planning Commission with a proposal to build a 150-lot housing subdivision. Yet, the vast majority of employees at Arlington’s Mack Molding and Sunderland’s Orvis headquarters must travel great distances to work in these towns.

In December 1988 (yes, 33 years ago), I wrote a column for the Manchester Journal titled “Eerie Town With No Young People.” The column’s point was the lack of affordable housing for young people in Manchester, Vermont. Here is a quote from the 1988 column: “Housing had to be priced between $50,000 and $80,000 for it to be obtainable (based on annual income then of between $15,000 and $35,000).” The average Vermont home price today is $394,000, according to a recent Banner article.

Another point from 1988: “As the National Association of Home Builders have often stated, ‘Where will our children live?’” Not in the Northshire; we did not want to provide for them. So, is it any wonder that our state’s public-school enrollment since the mid-’90s has decreased from 110,000 to 78,000 students? Gov. Phil Scott notes that the state would welcome 30,000 new residents. This translates to a need for thousands of housing units in addition to the hundreds for the homeless.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

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8 thoughts on “Keelan: Does Vermont really want new housing units?

  1. We need creative ways to provide housing opportunties for working people. A nephew of mine who works ski areas in the winter and construction in the summer in the Stratton area was recently told he would be losing the apartment he had been renting for the last couple of years. His decision was to say goodbye Vermont knowing it would be near impossible at this time to find anything else.

    My wife and I were able to get our house some 40 years ago when I was was working on a dairy farm through a Farmers Home Loan Program that while limiting the cost of the house ( then $50,000) provided for no down payment and subsidized the interests to make it affordable. The amount subisdized became a first mortage to be paid back when the house was sold or if we ever stopped using it as our primary residence.

    Perhaps similar programs combined with educational training opportunities where houses are built may be something that could help meet the need.

  2. A 13-year-old’s high school science experiment is the only source for use of global masking policies so why would you be surprised that privileged students who’ve never lived on their own are the source for housing policies in a grownup world?
    We are letting children who haven’t lived or fully developed and have NO WISDOM – i.e. learning from mistakes one experiences in living life – lead us.
    And politicians are using our children to push their agendas, globally.
    Its fricking insane – put the lowest common denominator and those with the least experience in charge.
    Yeah.
    THAT’s a great model for life.
    Geesus…we are SO far off the rails.

  3. They are getting rich off keeping people trapped in subsidized housing, which they conveniently call “affordable housing”. That is why there is nothing to buy. That is why the average man suffers.,that is why we have two classes, tourists and poor. We have land lords advertising out of state for people to get our wonderful benefits!

    It is part of the agenda, agenda 21, agenda 2030.

    You will own nothing and be happy!

    Welcome to the New World order! Now get in line little serfs, get in line. Eat what we give for your mind and enjoy your bug sandwich, it’s high in protein and good for you.

  4. Concerning housing for the homeless: if you build it they will come. In other words the more housing provided the more people will come to take advantage of the housing.

  5. A reason that many towns have been hesitant to invite more affordable housing is they dont want their communities to become like…Burlington…or Brattleboro…or Montpelier, by welcoming in hordes of deadbeat junkies. Years ago Shelburne thought they would “do the right thing” and allow a former motel to be converted to permanent housing for those who claim to be homeless. The police are there on a daily basis dealing with trespassers, overdoses and domestic fights and at nearby businesses to deal with the resulting shoplifting. Several motels in Shelburne then were allowed to become shelters during the COVID Dem-panic and the police have been kept very busy there as well. There need to be policies to provide affordable housing FOR OWNERSHIP for those who are decent, contributing members of society and we need to stop giving it away based on perceived victimhood.

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