State Headliners: Vermont homelessness on the rise, rent serfs and ‘trimmigrants’ are factors

By Guy Page

Despite historic low unemployment (2.8 percent), the State of Vermont says the total number of homeless Vermonters is growing year by year:

  • 2018: 1291 homeless people (5 percent increase)
  • 2017: 1225 (11 percent increase)
  • 2016: 1102.

Most experts agree that:

  1. Housing is too expensive.
  2. Homelessness sometimes results when people are overcome life circumstances such as mental illness, substance abuse, chronic under/unemployment, family separation and release from prison. More controversially, there may be a third reason (as espoused by Solutions for Change in California):
  3. A government and social services culture that unintentionally enables and empowers #2.

Vermont’s homeless population seems vulnerable to all three influences.

Expensive housing

In Greater Burlington, the average two-bedroom apartment rents for $1442/month, more than the average rent in the high-income states of Massachusetts ($1426), New York ($1340) and California ($1337). Only those states’ heavily urban and coastal communities in those states pay more, on average, for a 2BR. Vermont has the 14th highest rent ($1,038) in the country. The cheapest units in Greater Burlington average $920, well above the total monthly disability check.

A Vermonter earning the $15/hour in a fulltime, permanent job takes home about $26,000 a year (based on $31,400 gross). Renting just a $920 studio apartment gobbles 43 percent of take-home pay. A two-bedroom apartment in the Burlington area will consume about 67 percent. In short, urban Vermonters are becoming like their big-city counterparts: “rent serfs.” Joel Kotkin, author/expert on American cities, calls the ultra-high cost of West Coast urban living “California’s New Feudalism” in which not only the poor but the middle class also cannot afford to buy homes, and instead live like serfs or American sharecroppers, paying huge rents that limit their quality of life, prevent them from saving to buy their own home, and – when life overwhelms – put them on the street.

It’s a troubling irony; while leaders in these big Blue States preach economic equality, their cities practice landownership by the few and serf-like living by the many. Huge sums spent on housing subsidies and temporary housing do little to slow the cost of housing.

Overcome by life circumstances

Tomorrow morning, Nov. 28, state human services officials will brief legislators on the 2019 outlook. Helping the needy is a huge, complex problem but it’s a safe bet lawmakers will be asked to spend more money on substance abuse and mental illness. Without spending a cent, legislators could limit both by not legalizing “tax and regulate” marijuana. The commercial pot industry needs high-use addicts to thrive and will advertise to get them. T&R Vermont will need more addiction and mental health treatment professionals. The state already has too few and can scarcely afford them. Without such assistance, and perhaps even with it, pot-addicted Vermonters can lose their jobs, their minds, and their homes.

Futhermore, Vermont can expect a Trimmigrant influx — itinerants who live the marijuana lifestyle and who work at cultivating operations “trimming” the marijuana plants to enhance plant growth. Pot-legal Colorado and West Coast states all have experienced an increase in homelessness since legalization, with at least some growth in would-be “trimmigrants” who cannot find employment but stay nonetheless, eventually becoming homeless. Colorado law enforcement reports that at least a third of its incarcerated population who are homeless came to the state in part because of the attraction of legal marijuana.

Government/social services empowering and enabling homelessness

This is admittedly hard to prove, much less make moral judgments about. Organizations like Solutions for Change argue that in striving to meet basic needs without insisting on lifestyle changes, homeless advocates may actually reinforce the problems that landed individuals in homelessness. For example in 2018 the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance announced a strategy of “bringing together the three things it takes to get, and keep, people housed: (1) the housing itself, (2) the rental subsidy to make that housing affordable to people at the lowest income levels, and (3) the services to help people achieve housing stability.” None of those goals require any lifestyle changes.

On a state level, a Homeless bill of rights bill that failed to pass through the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee last year may have new life if its lead sponsor, Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury), gets his Christmas wish and is named committee chair. H.412 protects important rights to access to employment and housing, but also got pushback from business and municipal groups that said it might give vagrants undesirable legal protection for downtown loitering and pestering shoppers for donations.  However, the homeless rate in Connecticut fell dramatically after that state passed a Homeless Bill or Rights – so it’s hard to argue that H.412 would lead to more homelessness.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Allan Warren

8 thoughts on “State Headliners: Vermont homelessness on the rise, rent serfs and ‘trimmigrants’ are factors

  1. No affordable housing?

    Who demolished 100+ affordable homes, well maintained, 1950 homes, near the Burlington Airport???

    Bureaucrats and pretty people destroyed them.

    Not perfect enough – for whom???

  2. Vermonts excessive taxes and regulations restrict the supply of housing, this drives up the cost. Liberals cause the limited supply of housing, they just love to feel clever and morally superior.

  3. If anyone Googles the income of VT residents, it’s over $50K, Ref the Burlington Free Press for 2017, and declining.

    That high income must be the educational Government employees, gov personal and Flatlanders with their trust funds/bloated bank accounts. It’s not the average resident I question the accuracy, I don’t see or relate with locals seeing their run down properties for this income. Yet some are paying $9K or more in Property taxes–Windham taxed for a “view” by flatlanders.

    Housing for welfare people is backed by the gov, so rents escalate. It’s the gov again, fingers into everything.

  4. My grandfather was an immigrant shortly before WW I. He went to college in the Philadelphia, got a job as an office boy (for $9 a week). A place to live? Four guys paid rent for one room in a rooming house – paid room and board for all four. The government didn’t help you, but necessity was a strong motivator. Do boarding hoses even exist any more? Flat rate room and board, you got fed what was served, was a solution for people with little to spend and an economic boost to the providers. How many people have basements they could rent out? Are they allowed to do that any more or do the zoning police descend upon them?.

    • Forget it! With the number of code enforcement and fire escape egress laws boarding houses will remain a footnote in history.
      The reason housing is so expensive is the literal army of civil servants,making much more than $15/hr.and pensions at 55,healthcare for life.

  5. Despite historic low unemployment (2.8 percent), the State of Vermont says the total number of homeless Vermonters is growing year by year, the problem is that they are transplants “Not Real Vermonters ” there here looking for the handouts !!

    Liberals running the Government with all their foolish policies to save the world and all the
    lonely souls ……All they need is a cause and a new tax and they’ll solve everything

    So keep working, Liberals are depending on you !!!

  6. We could have home owner ship for $600 per month, 3 bed if only our state allowed it. But people can’t get rich by keeping people in poverty with our plan. Oh, what about boarding homes, those have pretty much been zoned out of existence too. Hey…what about room mates? Isn’t that what most people do when they can’t afford their own place, it’s good company and fun, it’s not a hardship. There are so many great ways to get people back into society, but people can’t get rich off the big city social programs that create massive wealth for some and generational poverty for many. Please tell me why we’ve adopted these failed policies as demonstrated in every city that uses them.

    Oh, yeah, lobbyists, “non-profits” and PAC’s run our state and get rich from the inside deals they make…..sad, accurate and true.

  7. Once again, an idiot legislature debating how to solve problems that they themselves have mightily contributed to. Act 250, ridiculous septic requirements, ever increasing property taxes, etc. along with a general attitude of “not in my backyard”, have all limited the growth of housing, especially affordable housing. Housing is subject to the same laws of supply and demand as everything else. The state has limited the supply, the demand remains high, the price goes skyward.

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