Vermont Governor Phil Scott said Friday that $30 million in housing assistance is on the way for renters, landlords, and homeowners struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.
During an 11 a.m. press conference with other administration officials, Scott announced the establishment of two funding programs that will help Vermont residents facing housing difficulties, as part of $85 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. He described it as "a step forward to address serious issues."
"I know many Vermont families and landlords are struggling and this won't be enough and won't address all their needs but we'll continue to look for ways to support them so we can survive this once-in-a-century crisis," Gov. Scott said. "It's critical we keep moving forward so we can recover as a state and nation, and recovery starts with everyone having a safe and secure place to call home."
Starting Monday, July 13, $25 million in rental assistance will be available for both tenants and landlords through the Rental Housing Stabilization Program. The money can be used for a variety of reasons including past due rent, security deposits, and first/last months rent. Starting next week, tenants and landlords can apply for help through the Vermont State Housing Authority. Applications are on a first-come-first-served basis.
The other program provides $5 million in mortgage assistance. Vermont's new Mortgage Assistance Program will help low-income homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgages and are facing economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Up to three months of mortgage payments can be paid. There is an income requirement and they must have missed at least two months of payments since March. It's not for second-homeowners. Applications will also be first-come-first-served and are available through the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.
These two programs represent just a portion of the housing support passed, Scott said, and other programs will be highlighted at future press conferences.
Gov. Scott also called on pharmacies and their parent companies to join a boosted testing effort "as quickly as possible."
"As we've seen throughout the country, the virus is still with us and will be until a vaccine is widely available," he said.
On Thursday, the Vermont Health Department reported 16 new positive cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to just under 1,275. Of the new cases, 11 were in Chittenden County, two in Lamoille County and one each in Windham, Bennington and Essex.
The number of deaths remained at 56.
Earlier this week, Vermont announced mandatory guidance and health protocols for colleges and universities to follow — including a health safety contract for staff and students to sign — as they reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidance, developed by a task force, includes initial quarantines for students arriving from certain areas of the country, testing of all students and staff at the start of the school year, and the use of face coverings while around others in public. The density of classrooms and dining halls also must be reduced.
“The state of Vermont aims to make Vermont the safest place to go to college,” said former Norwich University President Richard Schneider, who chairs the task force.
The academic calendar also will likely change with students going home at Thanksgiving and returning later in the spring, he said.
“Because we don’t want them traveling for a week and then coming back and then we’re starting all over again with everybody being quarantined again,” he said.
Students and staff face discipline if they do not abide by the signed contract, which states that they are willing to abide by the state’s and institutions’ virus-related restrictions. Schools will enforce the contracts and students who violate major health components, like quarantine requirements, shall be immediately removed from campus for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, the guidance states.
The discipline is up to and including termination for employees and up to and including dismissal for students, Schneider said.