Pandemic-Era Rental Assistance Program to End Abruptly for Thousands | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Pandemic-Era Rental Assistance Program to End Abruptly for Thousands

By and

Published August 31, 2022 at 1:51 p.m.

  • ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont Statehouse
Updated 4:12 p.m.

The Vermont State Housing Authority is sharply reducing the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was launched last year to help people whose housing was at risk because of the pandemic.

Because money for the program is running out, households will be dropped from VERAP starting September 30, VSHA said in a notice on its website. Others will see their benefits reduced before they are dropped on November 1. The program will be reconfigured to serve the most vulnerable households.

“The shifts in the program reflect that COVID-19 federal funding is not an endless resource,” the notice said. “Rather than have renters face a financial cliff, a more gradual ramp down will help the federal funds continue to support those most in need.”

VERAP will stop taking new applications for rental assistance, transitional housing and utility support after October 1, and utility benefits will end altogether at the end of 2022, according to the Agency of Human Services. The benefit reductions will be tied to household income brackets.

According to the statement published on the VSHA’s website, benefits for 3,015 households will end on September 30. Another 5,400 households will see their benefits reduced before they end altogether November 30.

Another 3,700 very low-income households will continue to receive benefits until the end of March, VSHA said. VERAP will also reduce utility-related benefits by 70 percent starting October 1 and will stop taking new applications for rental assistance and transitional housing on that date.

“The objective is to provide benefits to Vermont’s most vulnerable renters through the winter heating months,” the VSHA statement said.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) said in a written statement that legislators had realized the pandemic-era program wasn't permanent. "However, the changes the Administration announced today are unexpected, and may create serious problems for many renters who were relying on continued support to get back on their feet," her statement said.

It also said, “We’re also concerned that as members of the legislature, we still don’t have clear and detailed information from the Administration about how we arrived at this point, how many people will be impacted, and what other supports are available to Vermonters during this transition."

Brenda Siegel, a housing advocate who is the Democratic nominee for governor, criticized the plan in remarks in front of the Statehouse.
Brenda Siegel criticizing the cuts - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Brenda Siegel criticizing the cuts
"There will be mass evictions in this state," she predicted. "There is no housing. There will be more people without housing, and there will be immense harm to low- and moderate-income people across this entire state, to our neighbors and community members. They have had years to create a plan, years to make an actual plan, not just to throw money at the problem."

VERAP has provided $138 million to help Vermonters with back rent, rental assistance and related expenses since it was launched in April 2021, VSHA said. More than 12,600 households have received help, with an average monthly benefit of $964. Households also had access to another $25 million through federal CARES Act funding, according to the Agency of Human Services.

Chris Donnelly, director of community relations for the Champlain Housing Trust, said staff at the affordable housing nonprofit were scrambling to analyze the impact of the cuts, which they learned about Wednesday. Donnelly said it was too early to say how how many renters in CHT properties would lose their subsidies or how CHT could help them. About 800 renters have been served by the VERAP program, he said.

“We always knew that the program had an end date,” Donnelly said.

VERAP had initially been expected to last through next year, but the U.S. Treasury issued new guidance in March that changed the timeline and required the state to increase its spending in order to use the emergency funds earmarked for Vermont, VSHA said.

"We had no choice but to quickly pivot the program, which changed our timeline and original goals," VSHA said.

The funding kept families housed during a public health emergency, as intended, said Jenney Samuelson, secretary of the Agency of Human Services. The economic landscape is much different than it was at the height of the pandemic, when businesses were shut down and widespread lockdowns were in place, she noted. The economy is more stable, and unemployment is at a historic low. 

The state is working hard to phase out the program in a gradual, coordinated way, said Josh Hanford, commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We didn’t just run this program until it ran out and say, 'Sorry your check's not coming this month,'” Hanford said. He and other administration officials noted that the distinct emergency housing program that continues to put up 1,500 households in hotels and motels around the state will continue, as will related voucher programs to house people in winter.

Siegel insisted that program will be at a pre-pandemic level, and will almost certainly be insufficient to meet the need. "Their explanation is malarkey," she said.

Related Stories