Amid Vt. Housing Crisis, Leaders Invest $20 Million to Fix Rundown Homes

The Vermont Housing Improvement Program aims to increase the number of available affordable housing units across the state

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With people in many communities across New England grappling with a lack of available housing and sky-high prices — both for rental and ownership options — Vermont has a new tool in its multi-pronged approach to alleviate the pain of what many have labeled a housing crisis.

The program aims to create more affordable housing units across the state by transforming crumbling buildings.

"There’s dilapidated, vacant houses everywhere," observed landlord Ryan Walton, who owns a run-down property in Rutland that will soon get a second life.

Walton’s property on Route 7, which has two three-bedroom apartments, is currently being freshened up with dramatic improvements inside and out, thanks to the Vermont Housing Improvement Program. 

"Programs like these make America the best country in the world," Walton said Wednesday. "They also make Vermont the best state in the country."

Calling a lack of housing one of the most urgent problems in Vermont, and a drag on economic growth, lawmakers set aside $20 million to give grants to landlords to fix up substandard spaces that could be livable again with some repairs. The state makes landlords kick in cash, too.

Josh Hanford, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, said the program provides an average grant of $30,000 to bring crumbling units back online. As a condition of receiving the grant, the properties much become affordable housing, Hanford emphasized.

Walton predicted the repairs needed to bring his apartments online will be completed in late winter or spring of 2023.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, labeled the program a potential game-changer, especially for lower-income folks and people at risk of homelessness.

"Yes, we need to build new homes," Scott acknowledged. "But we also recognize there’s a lot of existing housing stock out there, sitting vacant, because it’s either not up to code or needs a lot of time and money that people don’t have."

The governor’s challenger in November, Democrat Brenda Siegel, has promised a sharp focus on housing issues. Siegel is also emphasizing the overdose crisis and reproductive liberty in her campaign platform.

"My concern right now is what’s happening is disorganized and piecemeal," Siegel said of Vermont’s response to the housing crisis. "No matter who you are in this state right now, if you need to sell your home, if you need to buy a home, if you’d like to have homeownership, you’re in trouble, because there just isn’t the vacancy rates and the costs are extremely high."

The incumbent said he is proud of work from his administration and lawmakers in the Vermont Legislature to aggressively improve access to a range of housing options — namely by directing a quarter-billion dollars in American Rescue Plan funds to Vermont’s housing sector. 

"This is the type of initiative that will move the needle," Scott said of the Vermont Housing Improvement Program, adding he sees it as complementing other initiatives in Vermont’s approach to improving access to housing.

Scott said improving access to a range of housing options will remain a priority if he wins re-election In November.

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