Bernie Sanders Said 'Thousands' of Vermonters Own Summer Homes. Do They? | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders Said 'Thousands' of Vermonters Own Summer Homes. Do They?


Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking outside his Burlington home in August 2016 - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking outside his Burlington home in August 2016
Updated February 21, 2020.

In defending his ownership of three homes during Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) listed each and the justification for buying it.

One is in Washington, D.C., where he works much of the year. A second is in Burlington, where he served nearly a decade as mayor.

“And like thousands of other Vermonters, I do have a summer camp,” Sanders said, referring to the $575,000 lakefront home in North Hero he purchased in 2016. “Forgive me for that.”

So is Sanders right? Do thousands of Vermonters own summer camps?

First, one must consider that the word “camp” can be interpreted a few ways in the Green Mountain State. Some consider it a descriptor for a primitive structure, such as a deer camp for hunting season. Others — and Sanders appears to be among this contingent — use it to refer to a seasonal home. Indeed, property listings do describe Sanders' North Hero house as seasonal, despite its price tag.
Using the latter definition, Sanders is likely not wrong that “thousands” of Vermonters own seasonal second homes, said Douglas Farnham, the policy director for the Vermont Tax Department.

Data show that Vermont has 17,000 seasonal homes that the owners don't use as a primary residence. Of those, nearly 8,000 were owned by people or companies who provided the tax department a Vermont mailing address, Farnham said.

He warned, though, that analyzing the data in terms of Vermont mailing addresses could lead to “inappropriate conclusions.” Some addresses, for instance, could be duplicates, as in the case of a company that owns multiple seasonal cabins that it rents out. And homeowners, including someone like Sanders, could use a mailing address outside Vermont — yet still be a Vermont resident.
Still, even considering for those factors, Farnham said, "getting down to less than 2,000 would be extremely difficult — and unlikely."

Translation: Sanders wasn’t wrong that thousands of Vermonters own summer camps.

“I think his statement was broad but fair,” Farnham said. "But exactly how many thousands is not something we’d be able to determine.”

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