More and more Vermont families with children cannot afford to own a home. For those families what was once the epitome of the American dream has become a pipe dream. Because affordable and decent rental housing is in short supply in several areas of Vermont, many families who rent live in substandard housing. The housing itself may negatively affect the health and well-being of children.
Worst of all, poverty and lack of options drive many families into a life of constant relocation and intermittent homelessness, a lifestyle particularly hard on children. Frequent moves take a significant economic, social, and emotional toll on families.
There are growing numbers of homeless families with children in Vermont. The Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity does a one-night annual survey of people using “brick and mortar” homeless shelters. In 2004, there were 892 homeless children counted. The actual number is estimated to be three times that.(6)
The solution is simple. In her study of chronic relocation among poor families in the Brattleboro area, Sheridan Bartlett of the Children’s Environment Research Group found that “[t]he one factor that has the power to break their cycle of mobility has been the subsidized provision of decent and affordable housing.”(7)
We must dramatically increase our safe, decent, and affordable housing stock. How to implement that is far more complicated. Our state government continues to raid our housing trust fund in times of budgetary crisis. The federal government has cut back dramatically its commitment to Section 8 subsidies for low-income tenants and public housing stock. Without subsidies the private sector does not have the same incentives to build high-quality affordable housing stock than it does to build high-end housing.
It is essential that we pull together and support policies that increase housing for low-income families and for young adults.(8)
* In 2004, the median purchase price for a home in Vermont rose to $165,000, a 67% increase since 1996 and a 10% jump from 2003.(9)
* To purchase that median-priced home, a Vermont household would need an annual income of more than $62,000. But the median household income in Vermont is just over $43,000. A household with that income could only afford to purchase a $114,600 home.(10)
* Housing is considered “affordable” when a household pays no more than 30% of its income for rent and utilities or for mortgage, taxes, and insurance. This standard is too high, but a benchmark for both private lenders and public housing programs.(11)
* The average Fair Market Rent for a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Vermont was $698 in 2004, a 24% increase since 1996.(12)
* The Committee on Temporary Shelter in Burlington reported the number of homeless families it served skyrocketed to more than 330 in 2000, a 400% increase in five years.(13)
* Over the last three years, an average of 4,000 Vermonters have relied on emergency shelters for housing. One-fourth of them were children. Because residents of homeless shelters are staying in those shelters longer, others are forced to make do with other kinds of temporary shelter.(14)
* Children who are homeless or insecurely housed suffer academically and are two to three times more likely to require special education classes.(15)
* Increase the appropriation for homelessness prevention and services.
* Increase funding for the back rent program.
* Make single individuals eligible for back-rent benefits.
* Fund the temporary housing program.
* Increase funding for the fair housing program.
* Encourage greater state involvement in supporting the federal Section 8 housing subsidy program.
* Maintain all existing tenants’ rights in the landlord/tenant law.
* Support legislation to create a rental housing health code safety inspection system.
* Call for enforcement of requirements that all landlords must abide by essential maintenance practices for protection against lead poisoning. That includes mandatory training in lead abatement.
* Support legislation creating a process whereby rental housing that has serious code violations and poses a danger to the health and safety of tenants be placed in receivership with a third party so that it can undergo necessary repairs.
* Support legislation requiring that rental housing comply with the state’s minimum housing codes at the time of transfer of ownership or, alternatively, within a certain time set by inspection and assumed by the buyer upon sale.
* Support the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program and encourage its expansion.
* Support the work of the Affordable Housing Coalition.
For more information contact:
Erhard Mahnke, Coordinator, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition,
294 N. Winooski Avenue, Suite 109,
Burlington, VT 05401;
(802) 660-9484 or