- Kevin McCallum
- Gov. Phil Scott signing a housing bill
The event was the first public ceremonial signing since the pandemic started. It was held at the site of a former furniture factory in Randolph where nine new solar-powered homes and 12 new apartments will be possible partly because of the bills.
Scott said the funding, when combined with another $50 million for affordable housing projects and other initiatives, represents the largest infusion of public money into housing in Vermont’s history.
“Anyone who’s tried to buy a home or find an apartment to rent knows just how critical this is,” Scott said.
Legislative leaders who worked on the bills attended the event, and Scott praised them for persevering to find common ground with his administration. He called the bills “a great example of how people from different parties can agree on a fundamental problem, put differences aside, and work together to find solutions that will benefit our state for decades to come."
Sen. Majority Leader Alison Clarkson (D-Windham) said lawmakers were able to work through thorny policy differences with Scott, which she called a rarity in today’s politics.
“These bills represent getting to yes,” Clarkson said.
- Kevin McCallum
- Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) in Randolph
During her remarks, Clarkson lightheartedly reminded Scott that lawmakers had approved more money for housing that he originally proposed.
“I’m always willing to have you exceed my goals,” Scott quipped with a wide grin as the crowd erupted in laughter. He and Clarkson later hugged.
The two bills address very different housing needs, but are similar in how they pair millions in federal funding with new programs designed to better regulate the housing sector.
S.210 establishes a statewide inspection program aimed at ensuring that rental housing in the state is up to health and safety standards. The program was originally paired with a rental registry requiring landlords to pay $35 per unit to fund the inspection program.
Scott objected to that provision. The registry was dropped in negotiations with lawmakers, and the inspection program will now initially be funded with $400,000 in federal pandemic relief funds.
The bill authorizes the Department of Public Safety to hire up to five inspectors. Fines for violations can be as high as $1,000.
The bill also contains $20 million to help owners fix up homes and apartments so that they can be rented, and to renovate properties to add accessory dwelling units.
- Kevin McCallum
- Josh Hanford, commissioner of Housing and Community Development, and Gov. Phil Scott
Many view ADUs as a way to quickly add more housing in existing neighborhoods around the state, sidestepping the battles that can bog down large housing projects. Property owners will be able to quality for grants of up to $50,000 per project.
The other bill, S.226, contains $15 million that Scott sought to support the construction of homes that middle income residents can afford, often referred to as the “missing middle.”
"Building wealth through home ownership should be for everyone in the state," said Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury), chair of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee.
Nine of the new homes planned at the project in Randolph will likely benefit from the missing middle incentives, said Julie Iffland, executive director of the Randolph Area Community Development Corporation, which is developing the 36-unit project.
“I can’t express how grateful we are to everyone,” Iffland told state leaders.
The bill contains provisions that allow the state to pay the gap between the cost of building a home that a middle-income family can afford and the appraisal figure — effectively keeping the price affordable while making the builder whole.
That provision enjoyed wide support, but another was more controversial. The bill would also establish a home-contractor registry, requiring those who perform construction jobs worth more than $10,000 to sign up and pay a fee to the state.
Scott, a former excavation contractor, felt the registry was unnecessary and potentially too burdensome for the smallest contractors like handymen, vetoing an earlier version. But he agreed when lawmakers effectively exempted those contractors with the $10,000 threshold.
The bill also includes $4 million to help people repair and upgrade manufactured homes, including downpayment assistance for new energy efficient homes.
The bill also contains permitting flexibility and streamlining to make it easier to build housing projects close to downtowns.
This includes doubling the size of priority housing projects in small towns that can be exempted from Act 250 review,, the state's land-use and development law. The bill would also make some properties in river corridors eligible to skirt Act 250 review.
The Randolph project, called Salisbury Square, will also benefit from these Act 250 exemptions, which should speed up the permitting process and save money, Iffland said.
Other permitting reforms include making municipal development permits valid for two years, requiring cities and towns to respond to Act 250 permit applications within 90 days, and providing more grants to help towns update their zoning laws.
Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden), who chairs the Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, was traveling and couldn’t attend the festivities. But he said in a statement that making it easier to build homes was a key piece of the puzzle.
"I have always said that while new monies are crucial to addressing our housing crisis, so is the enactment of smart housing development policies,” he wrote. “We need to make housing easier, quicker and less costly to maintain, restore and develop.”