Housing bill would bar towns from limiting emergency hotel housing

Hilltop Inn in Berlin, one of several ‘homeless hotels’ in Vermont

by Ciara McEneany, Community News Service

This legislative session’s major housing bill drew a lot of attention last month for its impacts on Act 250 reform and single-family zoning. But housing advocates also see the bill as a chance to protect people who would otherwise be homeless — by telling towns they can’t prevent hotels from renting rooms to those in a state emergency assistance program.

The “Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone” — or HOME — bill would also prohibit municipalities from interfering with efforts to set up emergency shelters. The measure overwhelmingly passed the Senate last month and has been widely supported by housing groups looking to deal with the state’s persistent housing crisis. In recent weeks, legislators have been hearing testimony on the bill. 

Vermont has a shortage of 40,000 housing units, has the second-highest homelessness rate in the country and the lowest vacancy rate in the country, according to Anne Sosin, interim director for the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. 

“Vermonters are entering homelessness faster than they’re exiting it, and we are concerned that these numbers will only continue to grow as pandemic supports come to an end this year,” said Sosin. 

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, motels and hotels have been providing housing for 1,800 households through the state’s emergency general assistance program, people who would otherwise be homeless, according to Alison Calderara, chief of programs and advancement for Capstone Community Action.  

Said Sosin: “Hotels play a critical role in sheltering Vermonters experiencing homelessness. More than 80% of Vermonters experiencing homelessness are shelters and motels. There’s a critical gap in that motel shelter capacity.” 

Emergency shelters across the state have provided resources and housing in the last few years too. But proposed shelters in the past have been shot down by restrictive zoning rules or outright bans in some communities. 

“We have heard of examples around the state where emergency shelters have not moved forward because there have been barriers for zoning and permitting,” said Katarina Lisaius, senior advisor to the commissioner for the Department for Children and Families. “The idea of not limiting the language for emergency shelters in S.100 is to not have zoning and permitting limit the viability of a shelter in hours or seasonality.”  

Groups that work with Vermonters struggling to find housing also worry about the July 1 ramp down of the Emergency General Assistance Program, the Covid-era policy that is funding folks’ stays in hotels and motels. But advocates are hopeful the deadline will push legislators to act fast. 

“I think that in terms of where we are right now, particularly with the pandemic programs ending, we’re in a serious place,” Calderara said.  

She added: “I know that legislators care deeply about this, and they’re paying attention to this and recognizing that inadvertently … regulations that we put into place many years ago, in a different time, are now working against us, and that it’s reasonable for us to re-look back at some of these rules that we may have set up and think these aren’t working for us anymore.”

Categories: Legislation

8 replies »

  1. Obama and his Democrat sociologist’s vision of Amerika: That everyone from drug addicts & dealers to the middle class/upper middle class to the mentally ill homeless to the illegal immigrants all live in the same towns in order to “diversify” – the “fundamental transformation” Obama dreamed of — The one exception being Martha’s Vineyard, but of course – where a single busload of “migrants” was thrown out within 24 hours.

  2. Eligibility for a hotel room at the expense of the Vermont taxpayer is entirely by the honor system. What is to deter participation in an area where you would normally be paying more than $1000/month for a small apartment? And the motels owners are laughing all the way to the bank. Based on the chronic problems experienced at and around motels formerly available to paying customers in Berlin and Shelburne, it is absurd and insulting that a bill should be proposed to prohibit a town from denying such use for a motel.
    Cities and towns can regulate other “short term rentals” and impose all manner of silly regulations on property owners such as limiting their choice of window styles. A town must opt in to allow a pot shop to do business. This is NOT a matter for the state to involve itself in.

  3. Maybe if we stopped taking Illegal immigrants we wouldn’t have so many homeless. Just a thought

  4. As with many of Vermont’s systemic and chronic social issues, one can follow a path directly back to the legislature and resulting regulations to discover the cause of the problem.
    Most of the housing issues, from homeless shelters to the lack of middle income housing is directly attributable to Act 250 and the myriad of regulations to develop land- from stormwater/wastewater regulations to regulation protecting flora and fauna, Vermont’s bureaucracy has it covered. The cost to develop a 10 acre tract into “affordable” homes can now only be done with subsidy, provided by government.
    So this is a problem that cannot be solved, at least by government. To solve it,
    government would need to admit wrong, change policy dramatically and move forward with new workable policy- including less regulation.
    And we know that will not happen.

  5. It would be wonderful if they actually did something to find and fix the problem at its root rather than slap a bandaid on it and call it “good enough.”

  6. Aren’t the people in these towns the same hypocrits who were so hot to vote for “inclusion” at thier last town meeting?

  7. Having worked on building homeless housing for a year in which 10 units were built, I’d like to point communities to some successful housing endeavors. Palletshelter.com has a team of formerly homeless people that are producing units capable of being rapidly erected for disaster housing, but also successfully used by many communities around the country to provide homeless housing subdivisions or planned encampments.

    Another group with almost a 10 year history is Community Supported Shelters. They are in Oregon where the Conestoga wagon trains brought many of their settlers. This is their design model for simple units that have been used in numerous settings – encampments, add on units perched on private property on church parking lots. They have 3 encampments – one for Veterans, one for people with disabilities and one for addict recovery. communitysupportedshelters.org

    For pictures of builds in Vermont that used similar practices to stand up to our winters view vthope.net/microd.html

  8. I have a little different perspective. Although I am against the ongoing housing the homeless program as it is set up, I applaud the law that will prevent hotels and communities from saying “No.” Why should only the communities and motels/hotels that are financially hurting carry the whole homeless burden with what is essentially bribe money from the State? Let the Burlington Hiltons and Marriotts or Montpelier’s Capital Plaza house them, too. I’m sick of having the homeless from all over the Sate being “housed” in the NEK.