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May 1st Newsletter | Emergency Housing and the “Big Bill”

Submitted by Lisa.Gerlach@v… on

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This year’s budget (aka the “Big Bill”) has finally been approved by both chambers. I've heard from a lot of people about many issues relating to economic insecurity, including the shortage in affordable homes and rental properties.  Many are also concerned about the lack of funding for the continuation of the motel voucher program. I echo some of those concerns, while also trying to look at the underlying issues of why people are unhoused. This week I am sharing some information on the motel voucher program. 


Emergency Housing 

After a state of emergency was declared In March of 2020, Vermont, with the help of federal money, expanded its General Assistance temporary housing program (aka the motel voucher program) to be able to house almost anyone who was homeless and fell under a certain income level. For the past three years the program has placed almost 3,000 people in motel rooms every month, many of whom are disabled and all of whom would be without shelter without the program. 


This program has been transformative, even lifesaving, for the thousands of Vermonters who have been able to be housed under it. But now that the federal ARPA money that funded the program has dried up, we have found ourselves at a turning point. In this year’s “Big Bill”, the money allocated to emergency housing will essentially bring the program back to where it was pre-pandemic, leaving thousands of Vermonters without shelter starting June 1st.  


I’ve written about the importance of creating permanent affordable housing in Vermont in a previous newsletter, but short-term solutions to houselessness is another critical aspect of Vermont’s housing crisis. Rates of homelessness in Vermont have increased by 150% since 2020. We have the second highest per capita homelessness rate in the country, only behind California. This is a result of years of neglect for the issue from the administration. The failure to create long term affordable housing has led to our short term houselessness crisis. 


For years I have stood with houseless individuals and advocates to support ideas such as a hotel rooms surcharge of $1 or $2 per night to develop a fund for the houseless and to build permanent affordable housing.  Because there was not the political will or leadership to make those investments we continue to find ourselves in this untenable situation.  We must make longer term policy decisions and investments in order to protect our children and others who are vulnerable. 


While I am happy that we are beginning to address part of the root of the housing crisis by investing in more affordable housing, it is also imperative that we find solutions to help those who are currently without shelter or will be without shelter once this program ends. The human consequences of leaving these people’s fates’ up to chance has the potential to be disastrous. We have a moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable people in our society. 


Let me be clear: I understand that this program is costly and a temporary band-aid for a larger issue. However, our homeless problem has been greatly exacerbated by years of underinvestment in expanding affordable housing options and ignoring the needs of low-income and disabled Vermonters. It is critical that everybody who is seeking emergency shelter be able to find it, regardless of the season. 


If you or someone you know is experiencing houselessness, or is at risk of experiencing houselessness, you can get help. Here is a list of resources. Please share this on public forums such as Front porch forum or others if you have access. 


The “Big Bill” 

Last week, the Senate gave the final approval on the State’s budget for 2024. Here are some highlights of what’s in the bill: 

  • $109m for Affordable Housing Development 

  • $88.2m for childcare and parental leave 

  • $650k increase for VT Legal aid, $150k of which is for eviction prevention 

  • $1.8m increase for recovery centers, including Jenna’s Promise 

  • $74.2m for higher education, workforce, economic and agricultural development 

This is, of course, just a snapshot of part of the budget for the state. If you’d like to dig into the weeds, you can see a full report here


With the legislative session ending in just a couple of weeks, your voice can make a difference now more than ever. I encourage you to reach out to your legislators or the Governor’s office to advocate for the issues that you care about. 


Lt. Governor David Zuckerman