Coalition Members Hear Updates from Lt. Governor, Congressional Staff & State Agencies
Affordable Housing Coalition Elects New Steering Committee Members
Thanks to all who attended the joint annual meeting of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition and the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. While we couldn’t gather in person as usual this year due to COVID-19 safety concerns, we are so thankful that our partners across the state remain engaged in the fight to end homelessness and provide decent, affordable housing to vulnerable Vermonters during this critical time. We hope you found the information and updates valuable. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at VAHC, our friends at VCEH, or any of the panel speakers if you need anything or have any questions.
The meeting was held on September 9, 2020 via Zoom. A wide range of panelists discussed housing and homelessness issues in the context of the COVID-19 response.
We invited both 2020 major party gubernatorial candidates , Governor Phil Scott and Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, to speak about their plans for housing and homelessness in Vermont and for a brief question and answer session. Unfortunately, Gov. Scott could not attend.
Lt. Gov. Zuckerman kicked off the meeting with a discussion of his priorities for housing in Vermont at this time. Some of his highlights included:
Support for raising the state’s minimum wage to help tackle the systemic economic disparities that cause housing insecurity and homelessness
Support for a $2 surcharge on hotel rooms and/or a new property transfer tax on higher-end homes, to fund new affordable housing
Invest in weatherization of low-income homes
Reforming zoning laws to incentivize modest density increases in small towns and village centers, to increase housing and economic opportunity
Looking into creating a statewide landlord/rental registry
Housing should not be viewed as a business, but as a basic right
We then heard a Federal budget and policy update from the staff of Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch.
Emily Nosse-Leirer from Sen. Leahy‘s office gave an update on the Senate Appropriations Committee processes and said one of Sen. Leahy’s priorities is to extend the deadline for the spending of Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) past the end of 2020. Sen. Leahy strongly opposes HUD’s rollback of anti-discrimination provisions in the Fair Housing Act as well as HUD’s proposed rollback of the Equal Access Rule that protects transgender people seeking shelter.
Sheila Reed from Sen. Sanders‘ office discussed Senator Mitch McConnell’s proposed “skinny” economic relief bill. Sen. Sanders finds this bill unacceptable as it lacks many major provisions that were included in the HEROES Act, such as a $2000 economic impact payment, $600 per week for unemployed workers, expansion of Medicare, and emergency rental assistance. (Click here for more info.) Sen. Sanders is also pushing for an expansion of the National Housing Trust Fund as one of his top housing priorities.
Thifeen Deen from Rep. Welch‘s office echoed the need for the $100 billion in emergency rental assistance provisions and the need to extend CARES Act spending deadline. Rep. Welch also cosponsored the Moving Forward Act, an infrastructure package that includes more funding for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and fixes issues in the program.
We then heard about how various Vermont agencies are spending their allocated CRF dollars from the CARES Act.
Department of Children and Families (DCF) – update from DCF Commissioner Sean Brown, Geoffrey Pippenger, and Lily Sojourner of OEO: As of September 8, Vermont has put up 1,088 households (1288 adults and 307 children) in hotels. DCF has been supporting motels and shelters by using CRF funding to hire 90 new housing navigators across the state. It is also allocating $3.5 million in “rapid resolution funds” for flexible one-time funding to address barriers to families’ housing plans.
Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) – update from Gus Seelig Construction on new developments has resumed after a pause due to COVID; this fall and winter about 160 apartments will come online across the state. About a quarter of these units will be for people who have experienced homelessness. $32 million in CRF will result in improvements to 13 homeless shelters to get them up to current public health compliance, as well as 212 new apartments and emergency beds.
Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) – update from Commissioner Josh Hanford DHCD was tasked with putting out about $36 million in CRF, and prioritized ways to prevent people from becoming homeless, while remaining flexible to address needs. It allocated these funds to VSHA for the Rental Housing Stabilization Program, to VHFA for the Mortgage Assistance Program, and to the Rehousing Recovery Program in partnership with the Agency of Human Services.
Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) – update from Maura Collins VHFA is administering a Mortgage Assistance Program with about $5 million in CRF, with the intention of preventing foreclosure. It is available to homeowners who are behind on their mortgage, with limited income in the past 90 days. The Program is still open and VHFA urges everyone to spread the word!
Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA) – update from Tyler Maas VSHA is administering the Rental Housing Stabilization Program, which will help fund landlords on behalf of tenants who owe rent in arrears. The program has received many applications after two months of being open. It has distributed average payments of $2,395 per household, serving over 4,000 tenants.
Housing projects have resumed construction.
Jen Hollar, policy director for VHCB, then gave a state legislative update. The General Assembly resumed in August to pass the full FY 21 budget, and is expected to adjourn by September 25. While state agencies will be expected to take a 3% cut, there are no expected major cuts for services and programs. At the time of Hollar’s report, the House’s version of the budget included an additional $4 million in CRF to VHCB for additional projects for housing the homeless, and an additional $400,000 to create a rental housing registry. The final budget will include only an additional $2.25 million for VHCB, and the money for the rental registry has been removed.
VAHC will provide a final wrap-up once the session ends!
Finally, VCEH Co-Chair Rebeka Lawrence-Gomez discussed its strategic planning process, which will include hiring an Executive Director. VAHC is also undergoing a strategic planning process, in preparation for the current Coordinator Erhard Mahnke’s projected retirement.
After the joint meeting was adjourned, VAHC held its own annual membership meeting. VAHC Coordinator Erhard Mahnke presented the finance and membership report. For 2020, VAHC received its highest-ever amount in dues and private donations, which largely funds the Coalition’s work. The 2021 Dues Drive will begin this fall. We’d love to continue the momentum and help the Coalition become a more financially sustainable organization.
VAHC members then elected to make two changes to the bylaws:
first, to clarify that the Steering Committee can hire an executive director or a consultant to serve as coordinator;
second, to increase the number of members of the steering committee from between five and nine to between seven and thirteen.
And, members elected the ten 2020-2021 steering committee members. A warm welcome to new steering committee members:
Kevin Loso, Executive Director of Rutland Housing Authority
Marion Major, Outreach & Marketing Coordinator at Windham & Windsor Housing Trust
Michael Redmond, Executive Director of Upper Valley Haven
Read their bios and find contact information here. We also want to announce that Jess Hyman will take the role of Vice Chair, and to thank Elizabeth Bridgewater, who is stepping down from her role on the Steering Committee, for her service.
Finally, we concluded with a discussion about VAHC’s 2020 Work Plan and strategic planning process. The Coalition will have expanded capacity this year, with three Americorps VISTA members currently serving. Despite challenges due to COVID, the Voices of Home project is still going strong. Thanks to a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, we will hire a Resident Organizer to lead a project engaging residents of affordable housing and public housing complexes around the state in policy issues at the statewide level. We are hoping to use this moment, in which it is clear that housing is health care and housing saves lives, to expand grassroots advocacy and awareness of the importance of affordable housing in Vermont.
As we look toward both the challenges and exciting projects of the next year, we thank all of our members and partners for working with us in advocating for affordable housing and an end to homelessness. The work you do is so important!