In 2014, the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development hired Bowen National Research to conduct a statewide housing needs assessment. The study concluded that Vermont has a significant housing shortage, especially for families and seniors who make less than $20,000 per year. By my calculation, at the current rate at which we’re building affordable housing, we’ll need at least 125 years to overcome this shortage. And that assumes that the number of low income seniors and families doesn’t increase. Vermonters may disagree about how much of our tax dollars should go into housing and how much should go into other worthy programs. But I think that all Vermonters would agree that we shouldn’t waste precious housing resources and good development opportunities. That’s why I was pleased when some of our State Representatives including Jim Masland, Allison Clarkson and William Bostow introduced bills to streamline the process for developing affordable housing. All three bills are modeled after legislation that works successfully in other states, and in the case of H123, works successfully in 49 other states. Best of all, none of these pieces of legislation requires any additional money. Perhaps I’m naïve, but after what happened in Woodstock, where a 28 unit project was delayed for nine years costing Vermont Taxpayers well over a million dollars in extra legal fees, interest payments and the like, I’d hoped that the legislature would step up and fix the problem. Representatives Masland, Clarkson and Bostow looked at what other states do and came up with some important improvements. What surprises me is that none of these proposals seems to be gaining much traction. As Representative Masland explained, it takes time to build a coalition.And it’s hard to pass new legislation during an election year. But I wish our legislators would visit the beautiful, affordable homes in Woodstock and ask the residents how they spent the last nine years while they were waiting for these homes to get built. I also wish our legislators would talk to families and seniors living in motels or in their cars, ask them how they’re enjoying the winter and then explain that they will get decent housing if they can just hold on for another 125 years.
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