by Guy Page
In much the same way that Joe Biden recently discovered it’s time to remove masks and drill for oil, two of Vermont’s Democratic candidates for Congress have suddenly discovered Vermont needs more housing.
This week the Senate passed S226, the Housing Omnibus Bill. Immediately Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint (D-Windham) sent out a self-congratulatory press release.
“VERMONT SENATE TACKLES HOUSING CRISIS,” the headline screams. This wondrous legislation “reforms permitting and land use regulations to make it easier to develop new housing, provides tax incentives and grants to promote housing development, and makes housing more affordable for the middle class,” Balint exclaims.
Balint is running for Congress. You read it here first: every public statement uttered by a politician in a contested election is aimed at winning that election. And Balint has stiff competition. Fellow Congress candidate Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Charlotte) knows how to issue press releases, too.
“Our local economies are suffering, families are being forced to make difficult choices, and our most vulnerable populations are without a roof over their heads,” Ram writes. “This cannot be our normal.”
To which many a Vermonter spending half a month’s pay on a crummy apartment – and glad to do it under the circumstances – is saying:
“It’s been our normal for years and it’s just getting worse. What took you so long?”
For decades the Democrats and Progressives in the Vermont Legislature have said no, no, no to affordable rural housing. They’re not stupid or incompetent. They just don’t like new housing – except maybe small units in big buildings located in already dense urban cores. Rural Vermont has millions of acres of fields and forests that would do quite nicely, but for decades they’ve stopped affordable new construction in rural areas in the name of water quality, climate change, forest fragmentation, community impact, transportation needs, citizen engagement, etc. etc. etc.. In the name of Big Government and Climate Change, they’ve increased regulations, raised taxes and fees, and increased energy costs.
Most of our senior lawmakers live in nice homes surrounded by fields and forests. So do their friends and closest supporters. Ah, the good life in Vermont. Give Balint credit – at least she lives in what in Vermont passes for an ‘urban core,’ Main Street in Brattleboro.
Ram-Hinsdale is married to Chittenden County landlord Jacob Hinsdale. Unlike their tenants, they live in Charlotte, which has no urban core at all but plenty of huge homes owned by wealthy people. Jacob Hinsdale grew up on Country Cedars Farm, now home to horse stables and riding camp – English equestrian, not western.
Vermont’s housing shortage was already horrific before the pandemic. Now that Bostonians and New Yorkers have discovered the joys of telecommuting, there’s even less available housing. The unoccupied Second Home – a thing in Vermont since the first ski lift, if not before – has become even more prominent. 23% of all Vermont homes are unoccupied – the highest in the nation.
The clever foxes in the Legislature and the ruling class have comfy dens, but the sons and daughters of Vermont have no place of their own to lay their heads.
It’s a travesty.
When Montpelier has “done something” about housing, it usually has meant dumping millions of tax dollars into $250,000/unit urban housing developments that quickly fill up. What it doesn’t do is allow towns and developers and buyers to make their own decisions about where and how to build affordable housing developments – especially in rural areas. That kind of strangling, no-growth control has been the consistent track record of the Dem/Progressive leadership.
S226 is more of the same. It dumps hundreds of millions of tax dollars into urban core de-regulation, upgrades and purchasing power. The Legislature is herding home-hungry Vermonters into Barre, Springfield, St. Albans, Rutland and other urban areas, maybe to buy but mostly to rent housing built at exorbitant costs, while continuing to declare rural Vermont – where so many lawmakers live in quiet arboreal splendor – hands-off.
Or as the bill’s drafters say in atypically plain LegiSpeak, S226 would “promote compact, sustainable communities with infill development in areas designated for growth in municipal and regional plans; and preserve open, natural space and protect natural resources and the environment.”
For better or worse, S226 may be vetoed because the senators cut-and-pasted into it H157, the contractor registry and licensing law already vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. In addition to registry costs and paperwork and the nattering oversight all state registration augers, H157 requires all contractors to meet ‘green’ carbon-reducing standards. It’s just one more example of Climate Change regulation making Vermont homes more expensive for homeowners, homebuyers, taxpayers, and energy consumers.
This is the same Senate that this year passed an Act 250 reform bill that the business community says makes Vermont’s land development law even more restrictive. And that passed S79, a landlord registry bill that Gov. Scott and others will simply drive some small landlords out of business rather than deal with a new flurry of state-imposed regulations, paperwork and costs. (Scott vetoed that, too.)
The Vermont Democratic Party seems focused on sending Balint, Ram (or perhaps another) to Washington, perhaps to impose politically correct rent-serfdom on the whole nation. But first they will have to defeat a Republican in the general election. And at least one GOP candidate for Congress, Ericka Redic of Burlington, is also a homeowner/landlord who has felt the burn of over-regulation and over-taxation. If she or another candidate can convince housing-starved Vermonters that a vote for her means a vote for affordable shelter, the general election may not be the slam-dunk the D/Ps are hoping for.