- Illustrations By Diana Bolton
Derek Brouwer's cover story this week shows how the housing crisis is pushing up rents for Vermonters across multiple income brackets. One couple, gainfully employed and earning an annual income in excess of $100,000, refused to leave the Essex Junction home they were leasing when their landlord declined to renew their month-to-month arrangement so that she could offer the place at a much higher rate.
The landlord shares her reasoning for the increase and lessons learned from pursuing legal action to evict the couple in "Renters' Prison."
The story is part of Seven Days' "Locked Out" series, a yearlong exploration of the factors contributing to one of Vermont's biggest challenges: the dearth of affordable accommodations for people who live and work here.
We knew that an issue so complex couldn't be fully explained in a single article, hence the half dozen deeply researched reports the news team has produced to date. We've covered the wonky stuff — land-use regulations, municipal sewer systems, proposed legislation — without losing sight of the impacts a shelter shortage has on real people.
"Renters' Prison" is the seventh installment in the series. Who's counting? We are. So is our fiscal sponsor, Journalism Funding Partners. Working with JFP has allowed Seven Days to function like a nonprofit news organization when it comes to discrete projects considered "charitable." The "Locked Out" series qualifies. Through JFP, readers who want to help finance our investigative reporting on the housing crisis can get a tax deduction on donations of $2,000 or more.
That means accountability of a different sort than Seven Days, a nimble, for-profit newspaper, is used to. We have to produce a dozen stories on the topic in 2022, as promised, and generate reports detailing expenses, reach and impact in order to get the money JFP is holding on our behalf.
It's the first time we've funded our reporting this way — the latest effort to diversify the revenue that pays for our news gathering. We've spent an estimated $30,000 so far on reporting and illustrating "Locked Out." Reader donations earmarked for the series cover roughly a third of that.
Halfway there, in our six-month report for JFP, lead editor Matthew Roy wrote of the project: "We're providing depth and context to an examination of a complex problem, which is helping to lay the groundwork for future solutions. We've laid bare Vermont's NIMBY nature, demographic challenges, and impediments to attracting and keeping young families. Many of the state's business, cultural and political leaders are sounding the alarm — and seeking solutions. We've elevated housing as an issue, and candidates on the campaign trail are all identifying it as a key concern."
The @sevendaysvt “Locked Out” series on Vermont’s housing crisis is straight 🔥. Absolutely worth reading, not just for Vermonters, but for anyone who wants to understand today’s housing problems.— Gary Winslett 🌐 (@GaryWinslett) April 29, 2022
The new one is by @AnneWallAllen and it’s as great as all the others. pic.twitter.com/qeWIBuUmSD
Gary Winslett, assistant professor of political science at Middlebury College, summed up the series more succinctly on Twitter in April: "The @sevendaysvt 'Locked Out' series on Vermont's housing crisis is straight [fire emoji] Absolutely worth reading, not just for Vermonters, but for anyone who wants to understand today's housing problems."
If you've got a housing-related tip or horror story to share, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are at least five more stories to come.