Last week, the House Committee on General Housing reviewed a report from the Vermont Land Access Opportunity Board and discussed racial disparities as a basis for allocating state resources.
Before the scheduled witnesses offered testimony, the chair of the committee, Rep. Thomas Stevens, D-Waterbury, noted that legislation that prioritizes state resources for specific populations is routinely being struck down in courts nationwide.
“Putting aside money for a particular group of people by name is discriminatory — we’re seeing the Supreme Court rule this way, we’re seeing contemporary jurisprudence go this way,” Stevens said. “So the question was, well, we don’t know if that’s constitutional or not if we can put that much money — any money — with this specific purpose in mind.”
Rev. Mark Hughes speaks on racial inequalities
Rev. Mark Hughes, executive director of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, addressed committee members about what his group would like to see from lawmakers. In particular, he noted that more white people own homes and farms in Vermont than black people.
Noting that blacks make up about 1.1% of the population in Vermont, Hughes said “0.02% of farmland is owned by black folks in the state.”
He suggested that racial disparities exist there and in many sectors.
“We talk about housing and the disparities that exist there, we can talk about education, we can talk about economic development, we can talk about employment, we can talk about health services, we can talk about transportation, we can talk about the criminal justice system, but time doesn’t allow us to do that,” he said.
Hughes said inheritance plays a role in such inequalities. “You get to inherit, which is cool,” he said.
‘Eradicating systemic racism’
He also said the state operates under systems of systemic racism, but applauded Vermont lawmakers for spending time examining the issue.
“Since I started to do the work of eradicating systemic racism and working to knock down some of these barriers, I have never seen an effort, in terms of outside of the legislative process, when we start talking about implementation, when we start talking about the people that come to the table, and the folks that do the work,” Hughes said.
To combat racism, Hughes said the state needs to allocate $1.2 million this year, with addition funds in the years ahead. He added, “I’m telling you it’s really like a $4.8 million [for four years].”
The ‘historically marginalized’ to be prioritized
Hughes called for resources to be distributed based on which groups are determined to have been “historically marginalized and disadvantaged.”
In past recent legislative sessions, lawmakers have included mandates in marijuana industry policy that favor participants by race as well as mandates that would prioritize land and home ownership by race.
The committee meeting can be viewed online here.