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Letters to the Editor (12/28/22)

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Published December 28, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


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Housing Solutions

Thank you for your "Locked Out" series on Vermont's housing mess [From the Publisher: "Series Finale," December 7]. There are solutions, solutions that aren't just more and more gigantic houses and huge apartment buildings, using limited resources that are becoming increasingly scarce. We need a three-pronged approach: 

1) There has to be a welcoming acceptance of auxiliary dwelling units. Here in Jericho, that's almost blasphemy, but we have many lots big enough for another building or two. 

2) The state should actively welcome and support the construction of energy-efficient smaller homes, in the 800- to 1,300-square-foot range — or even smaller. 

3) There has to be an organized program of home sharing, with sliding scales for rent depending on whether the tenant would be getting meals and whether he or she would contract to do specific services for the homeowner. Vermont has many retirees who would benefit and many students, traveling nurses and newcomers who would leap at the chance for a temporary place to live without going broke.

And, very important to me, the smaller homes in thoughtful clusters, with high energy efficiency, would be a way of making newcomers part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Many people come to Vermont for the views, the open space and the beauty and then proceed to participate in the destruction of all three. We have to think past outdated models and start focusing on places where our expanding population can live, comfortably and sustainably.

Maeve Kim

Jericho

Editor's note: HomeShare Vermont arranges the kind of housing matches described in No. 3 above.

Progress on Housing

Kudos to Seven Days on the "Locked Out" series, an amazing, in-depth, understandable and human portrayal of Vermont's housing crisis [From the Publisher: "Series Finale," December 7]. The articles were indeed referenced in support of our Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs' work during this legislative session. 

Our committee had earlier traveled throughout Vermont, hearing about all aspects of the growing housing shortage. We quickly came to the same conclusion, so graphically articulated by "Locked Out," that money alone can't solve the problem.  

Significant policy changes are equally important. This past biennium, we not only invested hundreds of millions of dollars in housing but also advanced policies that eased development, incentivized new housing and creatively expanded use of existing housing.  

Examples include policies/programs to modernize zoning ordinances to create greater density and to control short-term rentals, easing/removing unnecessary permitting, bridge resources to make construction of market-rate homes more affordable, smart growth policies to encourage historic and compact settlements, preserving manufactured homes, renovating blighted homes, enhancing health and safety inspections, and creating new accessory dwelling units.

Highlighting this last initiative, we found that many Vermonters, especially older Vermonters, are overhoused. Many downsize, but many could convert their homes by adding a separate, smaller ADU within the dwelling. This can be a win-win situation. Vermonters can bring in more income, stay in their own homes and create an additional unit of housing without the expense of building a whole new house. 

Thankfully, we have now loosened ADU regulatory restrictions. We also recognized that homeowners are not developers and need essential technical help with financing, permitting, construction, renting, etc., similar to the challenges highlighted in "Locked Out."

Vermont will now provide this critical technical support and also grant up to $50,000 per unit for the construction of an ADU, thereby successfully combining policy and money to create new housing in a highly cost-effective manner. 

For information, visit accd.vermont.gov/housing/vermont-housing-improvement-program

Michael Sirotkin

South Burlington

Outgoing Sen. Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) is chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs.

From Winooski to Jericho

I want to thank Derek Brouwer for an insightful and well-researched final article in the "Locked Out" series ["Green Mountain Estates: Expensive Housing Is Limiting Who Gets to Live Where in Vermont — and Clouds the State's Future," December 7]. As a first-time home buyer this year in Jericho, I found it illuminating to learn some of the history of our new community and the barriers put in place to systematically gentrify Jericho over the past 50 years. 

While not surprising, it was disheartening to read the current efforts to continue excluding fellow Vermonters from Shelburne in the same manner. While the entire conversation with a Shelburne Neighbors United for Responsible Growth representative was insensitive to the plight of Vermonters and reeked of entitlement, as a proud former Winooski resident, I take issue with the disparaging language used to describe Vermont's most diverse community by Robilee Smith.

I believe that all communities in our state could learn something from Winooski — the town that SNURG most fears Shelburne would resemble should more housing be built. Winooski has a vibrant downtown used for local events by residents of all walks of life. It has a nationally acclaimed music festival, an inclusive high school offering lessons in many languages to multilingual learners, and a community that welcomes the highest rate of new Americans in the state — all within one square mile of shopping, great food and modest homes.

We would all be so lucky to live in a community with those values. 

Amy Kapitan

Jericho

Speaking of Jericho...

Thank you for exploring Vermont's housing crisis in the "Locked Out" series. I'm a Jericho resident, and ["Green Mountain Estates," December 7] prompted me to learn more about efforts to create more housing diversity here. I went to the Jericho website and found the link to the Affordable Housing Committee. It includes summaries of presentations by experts and a summary set of slides by Susan Bresee of the Planning Commission and SJ Dube of the Affordable Housing Committee, framing the challenge and outlining approaches to addressing them. Jericho residents have ranked the need for more affordable housing as a top priority for use of American Rescue Plan Act funds. 

It's hard not to get defensive when your town's policies are characterized as "exclusionary." Regardless of the intent of the decisions that landed Jericho among the wealthiest Vermont towns, our lack of housing diversity means our schools operate below capacity, adult kids can't move back, seniors have few downsizing options, and town committees and volunteer organizations rely on elders who are ready to pass the baton but can't. Other towns nearby – Fairfax, Hinesburg and Richmond — have the infrastructure to support housing and are growing in ways Jericho can't — yet.

The Planning Commission and Affordable Housing Committee have already sparked changes in rules and attitudes. With more zoning changes, future infrastructure investments and concrete goals for new housing units, we can protect natural and historical assets and ensure that Jericho is more welcoming to Vermonters of modest economic means. Both are critical if we want to live in a vibrant community.

Gaye Symington

Jericho

Stereotypes Don't Help

[Re "Green Mountain Estates," December 7]: Housing affordability is an issue that requires the hard work and discussion your article touches on. But I thought it did a disservice to the subject by frequently referring to existing homeowners as wealthy and white. Passing zoning laws to protect the collective, democratic vision of one's living place is a human inclination parallel to anti-gentrification movements. No one wants to see their neighborhood transformed by the profit motive into someplace they don't want to live. Your characterization of residents as wealthy and white stereotypes and dehumanizes them and adds nothing to the conversation.

Johnathan Drew

Underhill

'Water Woes' in Jericho?

In ["Green Mountain Estates," December 7], Chuck Lacy laced up some valid points on residential land development here in Jericho and the town's history toward limited growth. Not mentioned are the large areas of land, such as the Mobbs Farm area, now safely under land preservation.

Nor does Lacy mention our local water woes. There's discussion about using the town's federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to construct accessory dwelling units, aka in-law apartments, to ease the housing crisis. But not everyone can afford to add an ADU. Those who do will end up collecting rent or getting a tax credit, thereby profiting from the taxpayer.

Everyone in town should benefit from the ARPA funds. In my view, the solution is to use that money to help upgrade our residential water systems!

I'm happy to call Jericho my home, but its residential water infrastructure is fragmented into several independent water entities with many neighborhood water co-ops facing serious upgrades and maintenance issues ahead. 

For example: The one well that serves approximately 16 homes in our small neighborhood water co-op failed several years ago, and the Town of Jericho did nothing to help — nor was it obligated to do so.

Our Jericho Selectboard does not want to deal with residential water infrastructure issues, and this could result in the risk of some homes facing a decrease in home values and possible loss in local property tax revenue.

Water and housing remain unresolved.

Robert "Bob" Devost

Jericho

Second-Home Opinion

The recent segment ["Green Mountain Estates," December 7] in your "Locked Out" series raises many valid and, I believe, more impactful reasons for the lack of affordable housing. Progressives like to blame short-term rentals and landlords in general, but zoning regulations that restrict building and citizen opposition to change dramatically restrict supply. This lack of supply is the core reason for the lack of affordable housing. It is not rental property owners and high rents. It is not short-term rentals. It is the high cost, restrictions on building and lack of financing that push construction to luxury homes that have less risk and more profit after the costs and red tape of actually building something.

Where I live, in the Mad River Valley, second homes are common and growing in number. However, Rep. Emilie Kornheiser (D-Brattleboro) is wrong to suggest that second homes should pay higher tax. In most cases, they already do. The Homestead Declaration is not available to second homes. In addition, second-home owners pay for Vermont education yet do not send their children to Vermont schools.

The growth in second homes goes hand in hand with the growth of short-term rentals. In our resort economy, these rentals are essential to the economy. Second-home owners visit and house visitors to Vermont who shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, pay taxes and drive much of the local economy. Singling them out to pay higher taxes is wrong and misguided. They already do and get very little in return.

Robert Perry

Warren

Term Is 'Insulting'

[Re Feedback: "I Am Not an Acronym," December 14]: Thank you, Martha Kemp, for speaking up about the acronym BIPOC. I have bitten my tongue about this term for years, because I am white. However, I have experience working with, and many friends among, the Diné (Navajo) people in Arizona and have relatives belonging to the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin. The term BIPOC has always struck me as fundamentally insulting: In seeking the ostensible numeric advantages of aggregation, use of the term comes at the cost of dilution of history, culture and personal identity. In attempting to merge the very diverse histories of "people of color," it best serves the white man's interest in rendering them generic, a blurry concept rather than real human beings. There may be Diné, Oneida or other people who take some comfort in being defined as "not white," but I have never met one. Thank you again, Martha Kemp.

Daniel Hecht

Montpelier

From Crap to Compost

Anne Wallace Allen interviewed me to gather information for ["Moldering Debate: Some Compost Toilet Users Are Challenging State Restrictions on How They Use Waste," December 7]. The core message is not about seeking permission to use the compost as fertilizer; the state isn't going to micromanage that part. It is the fact that the Vermont Department of Conservation does not embrace composting as a "best management practice."

However, we recently came to learn, through hosting the Vermont Eco Sanitation Work Group, that it isn't technically illegal to compost humanure prior to shallow burial by permit. The current law requires that toilet contents be taken to the landfill or buried by special permit. That permit option lacks guidance for toilet content management, requires a leach field, and completely ignores the fact that composting is the safest and most effective approach for most types of compost toilets. How do you shallow bury in the winter?

When our family went off-grid five years ago, we read the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins and followed his method exactly. It has been an empowering scientific journey. We've taken our compost to the Endyne lab for testing, with stellar results! We became University of Vermont-certified Vermont Master Composters and worked closely with the solid waste program of the DEC on an alternative permit.

I formed the work group to educate, collaborate and support best management practices with professionals and stakeholders. Mismanagement happens with all systems. Composting addresses the pathogens extremely successfully through thermophilic and/or mesophilic activity. Wading Bear Farm & Forest offers professional compost consultation and support.

Chrissy Wade

Waterville

Take Responsibility for Shit

I wasn't sure whether ["Moldering Debate," December 7] was about composting toilets or the insidious regulatory system that makes many sustainability practices illegal. What the article did provide was a very good example of how a shift of perspective changes the entire context of the situation.

From Chrissy Wade's point of view, human excrement and urine are not wastes; they are valuable resources to be collected and transformed into fertile soil. Hands-on resiliency through partnering with microbes, with over a billion years of R&D!

The state regulatory perspective is that human waste has no value and therefore must be sent "away," that wonderfully convenient land of the unwanted. This point of view has led to sewage systems and wastewater treatment plants that allow us all to flush our cares away and therefore not have to think much about water.

Since I didn't see a way to get in touch with the monthly compost discussion group, may I suggest an expansion of the context to include methane generation, as well? In other countries, methane is being captured through composting to provide fuel for cooking and heating.

Hats off, or should I say bottoms up, to all of those living lightly on the land and taking responsibility for their shit, even if they run afoul of the law. It is their real-life examples that will allow us all to see how our regulations restrict and criminalize closing the circle and living in balance.

John Garn

Leicester

I'm Finally Writing...

Many times I have been moved to write to the editor after reading compelling articles in Seven Days. Many times those opportunities have been pushed to the back burner by a busy life. This time, I am making it a priority.

Colin Flanders' story of Chantelle Blackburn ["Not on My Watch," December 14], who mans the St. Johnsbury suicide-prevention hotline, is the proverbial straw that broke my back. First off, thank you. Topics such as this and abuse, sexual assault, etc., rarely meet us in our current reality. All too often, as much as we care and are concerned for these elements of our society, it is easy to let them go without being moved into action. But our silence is complicity!

After suffering physical, emotional and sexual abuse since the age of 4, I began to speak about my experiences. At age 50, I no longer feared keeping the secrets ingrained in my being as a result of gaslighting and violence.

This journey was a solitary one, denounced by my family and church community, who were the source of the abuse. I have called Vermont my home for 35-plus years and feel safer here than anywhere else I have lived. I have even found peace. Talking about my abuse, and later advocating, helped me heal. I am compelled to ensure that every person who asks for help, in or outside of a crisis, is heard and understood. Sharing our gifts and strengths is how we lift each other up.

Jacci vanAlder

Underhill

Kudos to Seven Days

Congratulations on your three Publick Occurrence awards [From the Publisher: "Publick Eye," December 14]! They are well deserved, as they honor three outstanding local Vermont journalism series and/or investigations. Seven Days deserves multiple kudos for honest, thorough, dedicated Vermont journalism. Well done, everyone!

Eloise Boyle

Lake Forest Park, WA

In Praise of Harry Things

Last week's cover story ["Drawing Conclusions," December 14] was great — and the cover, compelling.

Reading about Harry Bliss' late little dog made me think anxiously about my own small mixed-breed constant companion, Ivy, and that of my neighbor Willem Lange, as well as Maurice Sendak's grief at losing his beloved Jennie, who joined the world of Mother Goose in his great children's book Higglety Pigglety Pop!

As I walked Ivy in Hubbard Park right after reading the story, a haiku came to me:

Old man to old dog:

"I'm not mad that you shit there —

Just, don't die. Don't die."

Tim Jennings

Montpelier

Proof that Seven Days warms twice

COURTESY STEVE MEASE
  • Courtesy Steve Mease

Steve Mease

Williston