Gov. Phil Scott on Monday announced the extension of an emergency housing program through December 31, while he also called for more action to create permanent housing solutions for the homeless.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has housed many of the state’s homeless population in hotels and motels. But once the pandemic state of emergency expired on June 15, the state has been trying to transition as many people as possible out of the program, known as the General Assistance (GA) Emergency Housing Program.
As of October 15, the program was providing housing for 1,500 people in lodgings around the state.
Finding other suitable housing has proven challenging, however, and homeless advocates have opposed eligibility restrictions that would force vulnerable residents back out on the stress or into unhealthy living environments
Last month, with people in 540 households facing eviction, Vermont Legal Aid and other groups that work to reduce poverty and homelessness called on the Department for Children and Families to extend the housing benefits for as long as possible.
Funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for the extension through December 31 at no cost to the state. People receiving the housing benefits must re-certify their eligibility. And those who don't have a way to get to and from their housing will continue to receive transportation assistance.
Scott's administration also proposed transitioning motel guests to a new Emergency Rental Assistance Program that would provide up to 18 months of rent at motels. It would be separate from the General Assistance program, which was designed to help people avoid Vermont’s potentially deadly winter weather.
In a press release from the governor's office, Scott said he appreciated the efforts of many groups to help people in the program transition to safe housing. But he stressed that a number of additional steps are necessary to make that possible.
The release noted that Scott outlined a $249 million Housing Recovery Plan in April, but much of the money has yet to be spent.
“To make this plan a reality, we’ve proposed to the legislature historic investments in housing to help people move out of homelessness, benefiting them and their communities,” Scott said.
The statement asked the legislature to release $179 million in federal funding to help create affordable, permanent housing. This would ensure developers continue pre-development work and projects can come online as soon as possible, the statement said.
Monday's statement also called for the creation of a $1.5 million rental risk mitigation program that would protect landlords and motel owners in case of damage from units rented to homeless residents.
And it proposed expanding shelter capacity and funding for programs that help landlords upgrade rental housing.