By Guy Page
Eager to find housing for refugees from foreign nations, the Vermont Legislature is considering a property tax break for homeowners who take in refugees.
H461 passed the Vermont House on Feb. 3 and is now in the Senate Finance Committee. It is not on this week’s Senate Finance agenda.
“H461 would exclude the income of new refugees from the calculation of household income for the purpose of property tax adjustment,” supporter Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford) wrote in the March 2 Journal-Opinion, the Bradford-based community newspaper for Orange County and surrounding towns.
If passed, H461 will mean lower taxes for homeowners with whom refugees reside. Vermont property taxation is ‘income sensitive.’ The less money an entire household earns, the less the homeowner pays in taxes.
The tax break would only apply to households containing foreign refugees granted asylum by the U.S. government for humanitarian purposes. It would not apply to “catch and release” immigrants awaiting a federal hearing for alleged unauthorized entry to the United States.
Vermont has welcomed about 220 Afghans in Vermont to date after the 2021 evacuation of Aghans and their family members who helped US troops and partners, the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Office said Feb. 17.
These families and individuals are being resettled primarily in Chittenden County, Montpelier, Rutland, Brattleboro and Bennington. While arrivals have slowed, it is likely they will pick up again this month with both additional Afghans and other refugees as the US continues to welcome refugees from other countries into the US, the office said. The majority of arrivals have found long-term housing and some refugees have also begun employment.
Refugees coming to Vermont under the federally-supported refugee resettlement program receive the equivalent of state welfare checks, healthcare, and food assistance as they settle into their new communities. Many refugees find housing in the homes of former refugees or people of similar ethnic or religious backgrounds.
“Vermont continues to welcome refugees fleeing violence in other nations,” Copeland-Hanzas, chair of the House Government Operations Committee, wrote. “We have room for new Vermonters in our schools, in our workplaces and in our communities. We want to ensure that our tax system supports Vermonters who step up to host refugees in their homes.”
Refugees, of course, are not the only people in Vermont challenged with finding housing. As noted by Rep. Maxine Grad in a Town Meeting Week report to constituents, “There’s no argument that Vermont is facing a statewide housing crisis. Part of the problem lies in a significant drop in the rate at which housing has been built over the past four decades. In 1980, housing stock grew at an annual rate of 1.8%. By 2019, the rate at which we were producing housing had dropped by 87%, to 0.2% per year. This translates into a reduction in housing units from 3,200 units per year to about 400.”
The pandemic Flight from the Cities increased both the scarcity and cost of Vermont housing.
The Legislature is seeking to pass legislation to loosen the tight housing market. Some lawmakers support loosening regulatory restrictions (including Act 250), others would keep restrictions but increase home construction and purchase subsidies. To date, no significant housing bill has passed the 2022 legislature.