- Diana Bolton
Finding a place to live in Vermont is hard — and has been for as long as I've hung my hat here. In those 44 years, I've occupied more than a few dumps, from the unfinished room I rented off campus while a student at Middlebury College to the attic apartment on Burlington's lower Bradley Street that you couldn't quite stand up in. One night in 1988, when I was lucky enough to be elsewhere, the unit next to mine went up in flames. Most of my stuff was ruined, all of us tenants had to move out and, in a final blow, the landlord tried to cheat me out of my security deposit, the only money I had left in the world.
Yes, things were bad then, too. But at least you could find a place, make connections and, with them, incremental upgrades. I lived with people at three different addresses on Loomis Street, for example, that improved in quality as I moved up the street.
I never would have been able to buy a house, at age 32, if I hadn't been married at the time. And the price was right: $82,000.
Such bargains are history — for first-time home buyers in Chittenden County, anyway. I can't believe the rents that Seven Days employees are asked to pay — up to $1,450 a month for a studio apartment. Those looking to buy generally can't afford anything in Burlington, so they settle farther and farther away; two recently moved to Vergennes. When we hire someone from out of state, I know it's not a done deal until they find a place to live.
In 2014, Matthew Roy left a job at the Virginian-Pilot to become our news editor. He and his wife sold their historic home outside Norfolk with the logical plan of buying something here. When it proved more difficult than expected, they found an apartment on Monroe Street in Burlington's Old North End. The plan was to rent for a few months. Six years later, they finally secured a place of their own. Responding to a "house for rent" post on Front Porch Forum, Roy's wife, Carolyn Shapiro, asked the landlord: Would she consider selling instead? They got their house on Walnut Street because it never went on the market.
Not surprisingly, I didn't have to convince Roy of Vermont's housing crisis or that Seven Days should make a concerted effort to get to the bottom of it.
Nor did he object when I suggested that he be the one to report and write the first story of the resulting series, "Locked Out," which we're launching today. Despite the time commitment and his many other duties, he jumped at the chance to immerse himself in the topic in order to better understand it. The knowledge he gained is evident in this week's cover story, which attempts to spell out the problem and the factors contributing to it in Vermont. That experience qualified him to shape and manage the project that will keep our news and culture writers busy through the end of the year.
Why is it so hard to find a decent place to live here? The reasons are complicated. And, hopefully, interesting to read about. More to the point, can some of these systemic problems be fixed or at least improved? With Vermont's historic influx of federal pandemic relief money, and a deadline to spend it, now's a good time to try.
If you have an idea you think we should pursue for the series, please let us know at email@example.com.