Housing is a basic human right and everyone deserves equitable access to safe, accessible, and stable homes, free from discrimination.
Having enough quality, affordable, and inclusive homes helps build vibrant communities, and promotes economic growth and opportunity for all.
In the face of the ongoing housing crisis in Vermont, where there simply aren’t enough homes for people of all income levels - especially those of lower income and the most vulnerable in our communities - and as enter a third year of the covid-19 pandemic, housing justice is of paramount importance.
Here are just a few examples of housing justice issues that CVOEO supports:
Just Cause Eviction is a form of tenant protection policies designed to prevent arbitrary, retaliatory, or discriminatory evictions by establishing that landlords can only evict renters for specific reasons — known as just causes — such as failure to pay rent. Just Cause ordinances also prevent “de-facto” evictions, and require landlords to offer current tenants the right of first refusal at the end of a lease.
At Town Hall Meeting Day 2021, the people of Burlington, Vermont voted in favor of making Just Cause Eviction a part of their City Charter, but the State Legislature has not passed it yet. CVOEO is part of a coalition that supports the change from no cause eviction to just cause eviction.
Legislative Actions to Support Vermonter’s Experiencing Homelessness
The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) believes that housing is healthcare. We understand better than ever that housing is an essential health intervention that avoids more expensive medical and mental health interventions in settings like the emergency room. Housing is also an essential public health service helping communities control public outbreaks that can further spread in medically-compromised communities.
To that end, CVOEO advocates for the following actions by the Vermont legislature to support housing access for all.
Short-term (1-12 months) actions
- The Current General Assistance Motels are full. We should create regional emergency housing options based on the hotel model for the next two to three years until more permanent housing comes online. These sites should provide onsite wrap-around services. We can look to hotels; state-owned buildings, colleges or municipal buildings that can be converted into dorm-style living. CVOEO is currently exploring this in Chittenden County.
- The General Assistance Program is operating under adverse weather until March 2022, which is good as the GA rules are relaxed. We should revisit Rule EH-700 to modify the 84-day limit based on individual and family need rather than a specific number of days.
- Shelters that currently exist with public funding should not require people to leave with their belongings during the day and return in the evening. If this is a matter of funding, they should be fully supported to provide services during the day. Shelter spaces should be nice; trauma-informed spaces and they should gradually be turned into single-resident occupancies rather than remain as congregate settings. These spaces should be low-barrier shelters based on behavior. Some people experiencing homelessness have pets and will not go into a shelter that does not take pets. There should be plenty of emergency housing options that allow for pets. We should increase the wages and benefits of shelter providers to promote excellence and stability as turnover is a major issue. Continuity in staffing is important in working with such a vulnerable population.
- Ensure the full health, mental health and social services system is engaged in ending homelessness. There are not enough providers doing housing case management such as the Designated Agencies and the Areas on Aging. Consult the data for a better understanding of who is in motels and what barriers exist by better using Coordinated Entry and programs like Built for Zero.
- Review vacancies at the network of Community Care Homes (all levels including Nursing Homes). It is estimated that 120 people currently living in hotels need skilled-nursing level of care or assisted living. Develop a response for these individuals.
- Receive more financial and clinical support from medical providers for the respite and after care that is provided.
- Fund a state-wide risk pool for landlords that rent to people experiencing homelessness.
- Advocate that a larger percentage of housing in the pipeline be designated to people experiencing homelessness: raise the percentage from the current requirement of 15% to 30%.
- Offer developers easily-accessible seed money to do project feasibility studies.
- Review zoning laws and identify more residential spaces with access to services.
- Create a Governor’s commission to identify statewide potential sites for redevelopment/reuse (potentially both immediately and over the next five years).
Medium-term (12-36 months) actions
- Create SRO (single room occupancy: a boarding house model) for temporary housing use with the goal of converting these SRO units into permanent studio and 1-BR apartments over time as they are no longer needed for emergency use; possible target population is youth.
- Create street outreach teams and innovate the approach through mobile services to help people with emergency needs and to assist with longer-term solutions.
- Create specialized housing options: recovery housing, not quite assisted/assisted living, not abstinence-based (step-up/step-down programs).
- Create a hub for recruiting and training shelter and services staff. Consult with UVM’s Office of Engagement.
- Sufficient funding for Economic Services staffing to deliver the services and support to meet short-, mid- and long-term goals. Call wait times for housing someone in a hotel can be well over 90 minutes.
- Focus on more prevention to understand how many people are losing housing and why, and invest in landlord and tenant mediation.
- Advocate for improved zoning laws, including safe camp sites and places where people can park without being removed; places where outreach teams can help with services and resident organizing.
- Update the Roadmap to End Homelessness.
Long-term (36+ months) actions
- Create additional incentives in Vermont Housing Investment Program to encourage owners to lease units to households experiencing homelessness.
- Build for the future by creating and adopting a 10-year plan to get the state's vacancy rate to 3%.
- Commit to full property transfer tax funding annually to VHCB for housing.
- We need to eliminate No Cause evictions. No Cause evictions give landlords immense power over tenants. We talk to people nearly every day who are evicted for no specific reason. The legislature should pass a bill banning No Cause evictions.
- We need to pass S 79, the Rental Housing Safety Bill. This is a bill that increases the health and safety measures for vulnerable Vermonters including people who are precariously housed.
Community Action agencies were established to fight against poverty, which is a major cause and result of environmental issues. Environmental justice takes on the racial, social, and economic root causes of disparities and has racial equity, the environment, health and equity, sustainability, and inclusive community engagement as its core values.
Examples of environmental issues: Inadequate access to good education or healthy food, inadequate transportation, air or water pollution, unsafe housing, …
Since 2018, CVOEO's Mobile Home Program has been part of the REJOICE Project (Rural Environmental Justice Opportunities Informed by Community Expertise), which is a collective of academics, activists, non-profit leaders, and community partners. The group has crafted an environmental justice policy for Vermont based on the testimony of those who have been systematically excluded from the mainstream environmental movement: S.148, An Act Relating to Environmental Justice in Vermont.
CVOEO supports S.148 because we believe that this policy and its implementation will alleviate the environmental burdens caused by environmental, racial, health and socio-economic injustices. There will be no progress made without the systematic elimination of prohibitive and discriminatory policies and practices. Communities facing social isolation and systemic discrimination should learn about all it encompasses, understand what is at stake, understand why this system change is so important, and understand why we all have to be responsible and active participants to this transformative system process. Education, outreach, and engagement on Environmental Justice and climate change is crucial and requires time, capacity, commitment, and funding. We have to energize, motivate, and empower our communities through positive, inclusive, and culturally responsive development approaches. Empowerment and organizing partnerships with community-based organizations will encourage active communication, build skills, and promote social cohesion, civic engagement, and a sense of belonging. Environmental justice is imperative for the future of Vermont as a State, a community, a people.
Mobile home parks are an important source of naturally occurring affordable housing. An investment in mobile home parks and cooperatives is essential to ensuring resident health and wellbeing, immediate and long term housing sustainability of these communities, and the dignity of homeownership for thousands of vulnerable Vermonters.
The most urgent and continuously worsening challenges facing Vermont’s mobile home communities are: infrastructure repair and maintenance, including water and sewer system replacement or upgrades; moving homes out of flood zones; road improvements; and repair or replacement of old, uninhabitable, abandoned mobile homes. There needs to be a significant investment in funds to address these issues. We believe that immediate action – and continued action over the coming years – is required to address the crucial issues affecting the lives, health, safety, and wellbeing of mobile home residents, who are important labor force in their communities, and to sustain affordable housing.
The Federal Fair Housing Act established essential protections against discrimination and harassment in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and family status and Vermont has added additional protections based on age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, receipt of public assistance, and being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. However, fair housing law goes further than that - the Fair Housing Act also requires communities to take steps to undo the historic patterns of segregation and discriminatory practices created by federal housing policy and Vermont has a further prohibition against denial of development permitting based on the income of prospective residents.
So what does this mean for our towns and cities?
Zoning, which is the regulation of land uses, structures, and lots through distinctly-regulated districts, plays a powerful role in establishing where and what type of housing can be built. Combined with other municipal and state planning policies and processes, this has a significant impact on where people can live, which effects equity, the economy, and the environment.
There is a long history of municipal, state, and federal governments using restrictive zoning practices - ranging from the (now illegal) explicit racial covenants barring certain types of people from living in certain areas to more subtle policies requiring large minimum lot sizes and banning multi-unit buildings - to exclude people of color and others in protected classes as well as people with lower incomes, thus reinforcing residential segregation and reducing housing opportunity and choice.
We know that communities thrive when they are welcoming and affordable to a wide variety of residents and we advocate for municipal and state planning and zoning policies that encourage inclusive, multi-family, perpetually affordable housing as well as permitting and community engagement practices that ensure equitable access to BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities and others traditionally subject to discrimination and exclusion in housing.
- Undoing the Racist Legacy of Planning Presentation from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission Planning for Equity Summit (2021)
- Enabling Better Places - A Zoning Guide for Vermont Neighborhoods
- Thriving Communities Initiative
Learn more about citizen advocacy and housing committees in this Thriving Communities blog post
Connect with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition
Join Rights & Democracy's Housing Justice campaigns
Connect with your local Housing Committee
Housing data from the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance
Community profiles and datasets from VHFA's Vermont Housing Data website
Vermont 2020-2025 Housing Needs Assessment with fact sheets on demographics, housing stock, race, homelessness, and more
National wealth inequity data from the Urban Institute
National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach Report showing the Housing Wage, an estimate of the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a modest rental, and GAP Report, which shows the difference between availability and need for low- and extremely-low income renter households