From Nebraska to Vermont
My name is Jack Reed, and I am one out of five AmeriCorps VISTAs that are serving in Vermont for the year – last year there were 25 AmeriCorps VISTAs serving in Vermont. Now, an 80 percent decrease in participation does not just happen and, frankly, is a product of the times – increased cost of living has made it impossible for most young people to move 1,400 miles away into a new community (as I have). I am lucky that I have been able to move such a distance and I am lucky that I have found housing within a state which lacks capacity not only for me, but also for its own residents.
After I had learned that my application had been accepted by the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, I immediately began my search for housing, since I only had a little over a month to both locate and secure a living situation for myself. Because I had started looking in mid-September, I did not have to compete for housing against a wave of college students, but I also had less available options, since the students had already entrenched themselves in whatever housing they themselves could find. Unfortunately, with my income, I can say that I had to rule out a lodge overlooking the slopes of Stowe. Indeed, with my income, I would have to take a roommate (or two), and I would have to give up around half or more of my income to rent. Remember that affordable housing is considered <30% of one’s net income. These are the realities of the situation in which not only I find myself, but many others do as well.
For my search, I relied on online forums and marketplaces (e.g., Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Groups, Reddit, etc.), since I was looking for an open, furnished room, and I set alerts for each of the sites on which I was active. Initially, I had sent a bunch of applications, all of which were met with either no response or a notice that the property had been occupied by another person. My search slowed most, though, when I noticed that there were hardly any new listings and that most of the new listings were fake (posted to steal either my information or my money). Although, any of the reputable listings on forums were flooded with comments and inquiries.
The warnings that I had seen posted on Burlington rental forums became clear to me: it was nearly impossible to find housing. Also, I noticed an increasing list of regulars on new postings, and I noticed that many of these people had spent months (or even a whole year) looking for housing within their budget. I grew pessimistic. I did not believe that I would be able to advocate for affordable housing, since I could not find affordable housing myself, and I likely would not have found any accommodations without my AmeriCorps supervisor, who kindly forwarded me the contact information of an alumni, who had a room open in their house. However, most of the people lack such fortunate connections – they must brace the sea of fake and instantly occupied listings, often for months on end, without any guarantee of finding solid housing. These are the realities of the situation in which not only I had found myself, but many others do as well.
My search process had been my first exposure to the tightness of the Vermont housing and rental sphere, and, at the writing of this post, I have served with VAHC for a little more than a week. I have learned some (but certainly not all) of the barriers to accessible housing: that Vermont simply does not have sufficient housing growth for its residence, that there is a delicate balance between conservation and expansion within Vermont, that costs pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed numerous housing projects. I suppose, then, that is why I am here.