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As the pandemic subsides, so do critical housing protections

As Vermont’s State of Emergency expires and the state reopens, evictions resume and the emergency housing program narrows eligibility.

Vermont has hit a milestone in the fight against COVID-19, becoming the first state to vaccinate 80 percent of its eligible population. Governor Phil Scott will let the state of emergency Vermont has been under since March 13, 2020 expire later today, June 15, ending all state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions. While there is much to celebrate, this is also a scary time for many folks who are facing the end of some of the programs and legal protections that have helped Vermont’s most vulnerable residents stay safely housed throughout the pandemic. 

The good news is that Vermont is investing more than ever before in affordable housing, with over $190 million allocated in the state budget for building new housing targeted to folks experiencing homelessness, expanding shelter capacity, and providing emergency rental assistance. However, it will take time to build new housing. Many are now at risk of losing their current housing and shelter. Below, find some information on the end of the eviction moratorium and phaseout of the GA emergency housing program, and resources for Vermonters who are impacted. 

Eviction Moratorium 

The moratorium was a keystone in protecting Vermont tenants throughout the pandemic. It provided stronger and more consistent protection than the federal CDC eviction moratorium, and was instrumental in keeping many struggling Vermonters housed. 

The Governor signed the law authorizing the moratorium, S. 333, on May 14, 2020. Under S. 333, landlords could still file evictions, but all evictions were “stayed” or prevented from moving through the courts, and sheriffs could not serve an eviction notice to a tenant. S. 333 tied the timing of the moratorium to the Governor’s state of emergency. 

Though the state of emergency is ending, that does not mean tenants facing eviction can be removed from their housing right away. 

  1. Some evictions had already gone through the courts when the pandemic hit. Written court orders (“writs of possession”) issued prior to the effective date of the statute, May 14, 2020, were paused for the duration of the emergency, but they can be immediately re-served after the state of emergency ends on June 15. Tenants have 14 days to leave after being served a writ of possession. 

  2. For-cause evictions (in which the landlord seeks to remove the tenant due to a breach of the rental agreement) can begin moving through the courts again as soon as the state of emergency is lifted on June 15. 

  3. Evictions for nonpayment of rent, no-cause terminations, and terminations due to the sale of the property by the owner are not allowed to proceed until the end of the emergency period, which is 30 days after the state of emergency is lifted, on July 15. Note: A landlord can file for these types of evictions during the emergency period, but the court can’t take action and the plaintiff can’t attempt to serve any civil process until the end of the emergency period. The deadline for completing service of process is 60 days after the emergency period ends.

Courts have allowed “emergency” evictions (due to criminal activity, illegal drug activity, or acts of violence, or other circumstances that seriously threaten the health or safety of other residents) to proceed throughout the state of emergency. 

The federal CDC moratorium protects tenants from eviction for nonpayment of rent (with certain requirements), but is also set to expire on June 30. 

If you are facing eviction, contact Legal Services Vermont at 1-800-889-2047 or visit https://vtlawhelp.org/how-we-can-help

Furthermore, if you are facing eviction or due to nonpayment of rent or if you’re struggling to pay housing costs (including past-due rent), you may be eligible for the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP). Applications are taking a while to process, so do not wait until you receive an eviction notice to apply! 

To apply to VERAP visit https://erap.vsha.org/ or call 833-488-3727. Note that the application portal has been difficult to navigate for many people and program administrators are working to make improvements. If you are having trouble completing the application, view this list of community partners who may be able to help. 

General Assistance (GA) Emergency Housing Program (also known as the “motel voucher” program)

While not directly related to the end of the state of emergency, the state’s most expansive emergency housing program ever is also beginning to phase out due to the improved COVID-19 situation. The General Assistance Emergency Housing Program has long been a critical resource for unhoused Vermonters, allowing them to stay in motel rooms paid for by the state during extreme weather conditions. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) significantly expanded eligibility for the GA emergency housing program when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, in order to enable those without homes to safely shelter in place. 

Many of the motels participating in the program have indicated intentions to return to their normal business of tourism; the state is also anticipating the end of FEMA reimbursement for the costs of the program in the fall of 2021. This spring, a group of state and non-profit representatives drafted a plan to narrow eligibility for the program. The new criteria is more expansive than pre-pandemic program eligibility, and is designed to allow the most vulnerable residents to remain in the program. This includes:

  1. Families with children

  2. Seniors (over 60 years old)

  3. Households including pregnant individuals

  4. Those fleeing domestic violence

  5. Those who lost housing due to a natural disaster

  6. Those whose housing has been declared unsafe to live in

  7. Households including individuals with disabilities

The new criteria went into effect for new households seeking to enter the program on June 2021; it will go into effect for current households on July 1, 2021, and all participating households must reapply and will be limited to staying 84 days (with an option to reapply for families with children or individuals with disabilities that impede activities of everyday life). DCF estimates that under the new eligibility criteria, approximately 33% of current program participants (650 households) will become ineligible for continued participation. Households that are no longer eligible will receive a $2500 cash payment intended to assist with basic resources. 

View the full program criteria here.

If you are experiencing homelessness and in need of temporary shelter, call 2-1-1 for a referral to community-based resources. Visit our housing resource page and click “If you are looking for emergency or temporary shelter” to learn about more resources that can help you find shelter, housing, and rental assistance. 

#VTRecovery #Poverty #Housing #Eviction #EmergencyHousing #COVID19

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