Keelan: does VT really want new housing?

by Don Keelan

Addie Lentzner and Erica Jansch are not experts on residential housing development. How would they be? Addie is a senior at Arlington Memorial High School, while Erica is a freshman at Bennington’s Mt. Anthony Union High School. 

Don Keelan

According to Greg Sukiennik’s piece in the July 14, 2021, Bennington Banner, they are advocates for housing the homeless. More specifically, they are requesting Governor Scott’s Administration to extend the motel housing benefits for those folks who currently have no place to live once their motel housing vouchers come to an end if they haven’t already. 

Lentzner and Jansch join Executive Director Stephanie Lane of the nonprofit organization Shires Housing, who is also in the news advocating for affordable housing throughout Bennington County.

According to the Banner, on July 13th, Lane and several community and state leaders celebrated the renovation of 27 local rental apartments. It was a ten-month project that cost approximately $6.3 million. On a per-unit basis, not inexpensive: $233,000 just to rehab a unit. 

The two high school students must have been pleased with the July 17, 2021 press release by The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. According to the Rutland Herald, the Board announced the $53.8 million allocation to acquire, fix, and build 389 housing units. About 221 will be to house homeless individuals and families or those at risk of becoming homeless. 

A number of the projects mentioned in the VHCB’s press release are former motels that will be converted to residential housing units. To meet the homeless segment of Vermont’s housing crisis, it will take a lot more than 221 units. But it is a start.

Homes for the homeless are not the only housing concern. The severe shortage of workforce housing is the most perplexing root cause of why businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies have been unable to hire employees.

The shortage of labor to build workforce housing only magnifies the problem of building such housing, not to mention the shortage of materials, long delays, as well as the double-digit run-up in cost.

And even if the housing problems did not exist, would there be a boom in workforce housing development?  No. But why?

If Vermont communities really wanted to add residential housing units to their existing stock, why haven’t such communities changed their zoning laws, approved timetables, and developed a welcoming attitude to provide for new housing opportunities?

The municipalities surrounding the ski areas of Stowe, Ludlow, Killington, Stratton, and Dover welcome home development that has price tags in the multi-millions. But why aren’t all areas of Vermont open to multi-family housing subdivisions?

I dare say that I would be skewered if I went to the Arlington, Vermont Planning Commission with a proposal to build a 150-lot housing subdivision. Yet, the vast majority of employees at Arlington’s Mack Molding and Sunderland’s Orvis headquarters must travel great distances to work in these towns. 

In December 1988 (that’s correct, 33 years ago), I wrote a column for the Manchester Journal titled “Eerie Town With No Young People.” The column’s point was the lack of affordable housing for young people in Manchester, Vermont. 

Here is a quote from the 1988 column: “Housing had to be priced between $50,000 and $80,000 for it to be obtainable (based on annual income then of between $15,000 and $35,000) .” The average Vermont home price today is $394,000, according to a recent Banner article.

Another point from 1988: “As the National Association of Home Builders have often stated, ‘Where will our children live?”’ Not in the Northshire; we did not want to provide for them. So, is it any wonder that our state’s public-school enrollment, since the mid-’90s, has decreased from 110,000 to 78,000 students?

Governor Phil Scott notes that the State would welcome 30,000 new residents. This translates to a need for thousands of housing units in addition to the hundreds for the homeless.  

Categories: Commentary

7 replies »

  1. I remember when Keelan used to be a real conservative writer, now he likes to walk the line. Guess it’s more important to now feel like you can sit with the “cool kids” at lunchtime.

    Sorry, but SUPPLY & DEMAND primarily dictate the housing market in VT as well as across this entire country.

    Neither young people fresh out of college or unskilled, uneducated workers can typically go into any housing market anywhere and expect to buy a lovely home in a middle income neighborhood.

    I bought my FIRST “home”, at age 29 – after renting for years in a rent-subsidized” project, which was a Co-operative 1 bedroom/1 bath in a somewhat seedy area. I had a mortgage. Several years later, I bought a 950 square ft ranch home. I had another mortgage. Eventually, by the time I was in my latter 50’s, I had saved some, had my credit score near where it needed to be, and took out ANOTHER mortgage with my husband in order to eventually buy basically what we had always hoped for.

    In other words? We worked ourselves up the old fashioned way over many years.

    Sorry, Mr. Keelan, but people who have worked long & hard to reside in nice, safe areas have the RIGHT to not wish to live amidst homeless shelters, low-income & subsidized housing that OFTEN attract crime, drugs, & other social problems.

    I mean, even I didn’t want to live amidst the drugs & crime I had to live amongst when I lived in low-income housing MYSELF. How could I ever “blame” people in Stowe or Manchester because they don’t either???

    Graduate from college or learn a trade. Don’t become pregnant or impregnate anyone until you are mentally, emotionally, & FINANCIALLY prepared to become a parent. Make sound and conservative financial decisions. Don’t use or abuse drugs or alcohol. And don’t forget – nobody “owes” you decent housing.

    You owe THAT to yourself.

    • Keelan is articulating a problem, the lack of “starter” and lower priced housing in Vermont. The issue has been around for decades- 33 years or more according to Keelan. I detect no pompous attitude in what he wrote, on the contrary he clarifies that the emphasis today is for government run housing for homeless and low-income, the excessive cost and regulation of building and renovating such housing. People seem to equate subsidized units with “affordable housing” as is the catch phrase today, but I’m not sure thats what Keelan was getting at. It is the very housing that Ms. Henry sought when she describes her first home that Vermont is lacking. Keelan is making the point that lower priced homes like that (Owner occupied homes) have been “zoned” out. The burdensome requirements imposed by state regulation (Act 250, environmental regulation) along with “NIMBY” thinking have made affordable housing extremely rare and difficult to build. Government, local, state and federal are all complicit in the outcome of their regulations, which is a lack of moderately priced housing in Vermont. So, Vermont’s housing market is all demand- very little supply- caused in part by…you guessed it…ourselves and our politicians.

  2. Free Market, Free Society. Government is a monster and has intruded way too much in everyone’s lives from cradle to grave. We don’t need or want subsidized housing or subsidized “fake” products or industries. We don’t want crime, drugs, illegal aliens, fake presidents, tyranny, or a Marxist Regime.

    Liberty is from God not men.

  3. Annual income has NOT risen substantially since the 1980’s but the COST and PRICE of Housing has. No one seeks or wants to live in subsidized housing. People are pushed into subsidized housing because of the bad economy for Americans. China has been ripping us off through our “elected” officials (rigged elections), the heads of Corporations and now Big Tech. These so-called “elected” officials, heads of Corporations and Big Tech are in bed with China, being paid by China to takeover America for a Marxist Regime.

    Our manufacturing has suffered, our economy has suffered, drugs have increased, deaths from fentanyl has increased, Big Government has increased. So What are the so-called “elected” officials doing to help Americans? Oh, that’s right, NOTHING, they are helping themselves get rich from our taxpayer money and China. Ever wonder how the “elected” officials all get millions of dollars, second and third homes, high-priced vacations, clothes, etc. on a Senator’s or House’s salary?

    Now these same “elected” officials want to pass $1 trillion infrastructure bill. This is NOT an infrastructure Bill. It’s designed to kill the American economy and America as we know it.

    They are all exposed. The LIES are exposed. The TRUTH is out.

    Liberty is from God not men.

  4. During my 3 decades of writing columns for Vermont media I had a self-imposed rule not to respond to comments/letters. However, I must now in order to not allow Kathy Henry’s comments to stand uncorrected.
    First, I was never, ” a cop in New York,” as Henry notes that I was. My last 20 years in New York I was involved in the development of several thousands of homes—market rate homes –for folks who worked in metro New York’s schools, businesses and government agencies as well as retirees—my company and many like ours, served the market of homebuyers who were not homeless, did not require government subsidies and for the most part were first and second-time homeowners.
    This is the market that is not being served in Vermont —it was lacking 33 years ago and still is today—-and here in southern Vermont based on the demographic picture, it won’t be long that when one calls 911– there will be no response—the delayed version is happening already.

    • Though my attributing you to being a “cop” (as they were once commonly referred prior to the advent of all the anti-law enforcement rhetoric ignited primarily by BLM, antifa, & their funder-in-chief George Soros) if I’m not mistaken your columns appeared regularly within the Bennington Banner years ago and used to state you resided in Arlington, VT & once resided in the NY region. Is that somewhat correct?

      Just to note, I once also wrote regular columns (published as “Commentaries” years ago if I’m not mistaken) for the Bennington Banner – a paper I no longer have any interest in even reading any longer whatsoever as its content is so far left & thereby distorted, it’s actually nauseating.

      Your former occupation aside however, is not really the issue here. And the points I made above in my post above still stand.

      While living in Pownal, VT (a stone’s throw from Arlington) for approximately a decade & a half & serving on Pownal’s Planning Commission (where I learned first hand that the adage “no good deeds go unpunished” to be eminently true, BTW) there were ELEVEN trailer parks in that town alone, some of them quite sizeable, NUMEROUS single family homes were bought & sold WELL under the median price for homes both by VT standards as well as national standards, AND next door Bennington HAD and STILL HAS permanently situated “affordable”, “low”, “workforce” housing groups – the “Shires” of VT, along with the Regional Affordable Housing & Bennington Housing Authority who work to build/provide/maintain seemingly endless supplies of such housing for people who are supposedly VT residents, though the residency “requirements” are of course very “liberal”.

      Such new construction & the rehab of pre-existing buildings retrofitted for such application has been going on for years and OPPOSED for years as well by many in the area including by the prominent owner of a long-term, well-established Realty company there who was very vocal in her opposition (as were numerous residents & business owners in the area) at MANY Bennington Select Board meetings as they cited rising crime & depreciation of Real Estate property values in the area due to the SURPLUS (yes, surplus of such housing) when these critics demonstrated that units were sometimes empty at the very same time the organizations were accepting federal funding to construct/rehab yet MORE as per my sources at the Better Bennington Corp. Her public statements & letters to the editor can likely still be accessed by an archive search.

      Therefore, to state that VT hardly “offers” this type of housing (whatever the current popular culture verbiage it is called this week) is a: FALSEHOOD. It can be both SEEN & ACCESSED particularly in the South Shires of VT, but in MANY, MANY other areas of VT as well including, but not limited to, the Burlington area.

      In addition, this “workforce” or “first home buyer” or “affordable” or whatever housing which is supposedly absent or limited all over the NorthEast – is simply untrue. The FACT remains it very obviously is NOT – it’s simply, as I stated above, that many believe (no thanks to SOCIALIST Sanders & his Marxist cohorts in Congress) that Vermonters & all citizens somehow “deserve” certain levels and price points of housing courtesy of Uncle Sam. They/we do NOT. To reiterate: I very reluctantly lived in rent subsidized housing for nearly a decade & then further reluctantly purchased a very small home, again replete with a very large mortgage, in order to work myself up to be able to eventually purchase the type of home in a locale that was more suitable/acceptable which I could afford.

      Today these choices are NOT non-existent for Vermonters or most others unless your personal quest is to eventually purchase a 10 bedroom, 12 bathroom sprawling estate along the shore in, say, Martha’s Vineyard……you know, the type of mansion former President Obama now enjoys as his family’s digs.

      And in conclusion – you can bet your bottom dollar that the socialist-lovin’ Feds won’t be forcing that area of Martha’s Vineyard to alter THEIR zoning in order to accommodate MUCH less modest and/or tenement style housing THERE to “assist” the “disadvantaged”!

      And you know what? If I could ever even imagine having the financial ability to buy a home —– I wouldn’t want them to either!!!!!!

      All are EQUAL in the eyes of God. We are simply NOT all equal on this earth. Sad perhaps, but true —– and Uncle Sam is never going to change that.

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