Religion leaders ask the Legislature to allot extra Covid-19 cash for housing

Vermont religious leaders want state legislation to allocate more Covid-19 money to housing, but lawmakers, trying to balance myriad other requests, say that is easier said than done.

Vermont Interfaith Action, a grassroots coalition of nearly 70 spiritual communities from Brattleboro to Burlington, has asked the budget and Senate committees to increase spending on affordable housing by a factor of five from a budget of $ 50 million at the suggestion of Governor Phil Scott.

“We will ask you to dream big and enable every Vermonter to have permanent, stable and safe housing,” the group wrote in a new article report. “It is not only morally right, but also economically right.”

The state is receiving nearly $ 200,000 a night in federal funding to house nearly 2,800 homeless people in hotels and motels during the pandemic. Faith leaders argue that allocating funds for permanent housing would cost significantly less than continuing the status quo.

“Providing stable housing will reduce the downstream costs of poor physical and mental health, substance use disorders, educational support for students whose main challenge is chaos and trauma, and ultimately the cost of our criminal justice and correctional systems,” they write in the Report .

The state’s growth rate for residential real estate is expected to decrease from 1.66% in the 1980s to about a tenth (0.18%) this decade at the latest Vermont Housing Needs Assessment.

“When a housing market offers new housing options to buyers and middle- and higher-income tenants, their existing apartments, which are likely to be cheaper than new apartments, will become available to other apartment hunters,” the review said. “In this way, declines in housing construction ultimately reduce the availability of affordable housing for lower-income Vermonters.”

Likewise, the state’s rate of growth for rental units has declined since 1990.

“What the pandemic has brought to light is the extent to which we have negligently invested too little in our housing system,” wrote the faith leaders. “We are now blessed with the opportunity to remedy this shortcoming.”

The House of Representatives budget proposal, which is currently under consideration by the Senate, could potentially add 1,200 housing units, the clergy said. But Scott’s suggestion, they estimated, could add 5,000 units.

“With what we now know of the true numbers of people living in shelters and motels,” they wrote, “the budget of the house is well below need and Governor Scott’s desire is to create 5,000 units a very reasonable goal. “

In response, Senate leaders said writing a budget was a balancing act.

“Housing construction is important, but only part of the story,” Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham County, told the group recently Online meeting. “If we don’t put in the right supports, people can easily lose them for a variety of reasons.”

As a result, lawmakers also want to provide money for rental and mortgage assistance, as well as mental health and addiction services for newly housed tenants.

“I totally agree with the concern for the homeless, but the grants committee is a very consultative process,” said Senator Alice Nitka, D-Windsor County. “A lot of things have to be weighed.”

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About Kevin

Kevin O’Connor is a Brattleboro-based writer and former contributor to the Sunday Rutland Herald and the Times Argus.

E-mail: [email protected]

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