How we can shape the future of Vermont: A conversation with Paul Costello of the Vermont Council on

“We are at a point in history that compels us to come together,” says Paul Costello, Executive Director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. For the past year, Costello and his organization have been preoccupied with a question they want Vermonters to come together around: What does recovery from the pandemic look like? As we begin to emerge from this era in which the patterns of our daily lives have been massively disrupted, and search for a path to our future, it’s become clear recovery extends far beyond merely going back to the pre-pandemic “normal.” Costello has recognized this reality from the beginning, and invites Vermont’s affordable housing community to join the Council on Rural Development in shaping an intentional, collaborative, post-pandemic plan: a proposition for the future of Vermont. 

VCRD is a nonprofit that was started in 1992 to help coordinate state and federal policy to support the communities of rural Vermont. The Council was part of a national movement to bring attention to rural communities, but the small scale of the state has allowed it to grow to be one of the most successful. VCRD’s work consists in bringing stakeholders together to share understanding and build consensus around public policy issues that affect their communities—from agriculture to telecommunications and beyond. 

Ten years ago, VCRD built a Council on the Future of Vermont, and after an extensive stakeholder outreach process built a set of goals and priorities for the future. VCRD is now undertaking a similar process to build an action plan, a collaborative platform outlining concrete steps that Vermont must take in the short-term to ensure a better future for the next generation. Over the past few months, the Council has heard from over 1000 Vermonters in community-based sessions on what recovery looks like and drafted a proposition to advance renewal and resilience for our communities and economy. 

Costello says the Council is interested in feedback on how to work specific priorities and phrasing into the final Proposition, including around housing and its role in reducing drastic wealth disparities. “We’re very interested in thinking about ways that housing can help people leave poverty,” Costello explains. “We need to think really systemically about what we’re doing … we have to look at ways to use the wealth of our society as a whole to meet the human needs of all residents.”

“We’ve done an enormous amount of work in Vermont, and we’ve built a strong safety net of affordable housing in our communities. There’s a lot more to do but we don’t have a lot of room for complacency either,” Costello adds. 

Through late March, VCRD will keep the “Future of Vermont” survey open, and anyone can give feedback, ideas, improvements, additions, and deletions. VAHC encourages affordable housing professionals and residents to weigh in at http://www.futureofvermont.org.

Read the ten draft Proposition statements below: 

PART 1: Vermont must ensure universal broadband and cellular access, while using digital tools to promote community, civility and democracy, and to advance local commerce and economic opportunity

PART 2: Vermonters must oppose racism, renew and expand our collective identity, and welcome new Vermonters

PART 3: Vermont must advance creative economic solutions to climate change

PART 4: Vermont must reduce economic disparity, advance economic opportunity and rebuild the middle class

PART 5: Vermont must re-localize energy, agriculture, and business investment for a resilient economy

PART 6: Vermont must ensure all children have access to affordable, quality child care and education

PART 7: Vermont must strengthen business vitality by advancing entrepreneurship, investment, workforce and rural innovation

PART 8: Vermont must reform regional coordination and governance and advance efficiency and foresight in state planning

PART 9: Vermont must protect our lands and waters and advance the economy of the working landscape

PART 10: Together, Vermonters must renew civic engagement and strengthen trust, civility, democratic decision-making, and empower young Vermonters

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