New report details Vermont’s housing affordability gap

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — A new national report released Wednesday puts the affordable housing crisis in perspective and details the gap between what Vermonters are earning and how much they’re spending on rent.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to me that someone should have to work two jobs or pay over half their income to afford a decent place to live,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders. “We need more housing that everyday working Vermonters can afford. There is no question in my mind that housing is a basic human right.”

According to the annual “Out of Reach” report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, you need to earn nearly $24 per hour to afford a safe, two-bedroom place in Vermont. New Yorkers, by comparison, have to make $34. The average renting Vermonter makes less than $14.

Out of Reach 2021 Report – National Low Income Housing Coalition

“Each year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition provides invaluable data that reinforces what we already know: Here in Vermont, housing is scarce, and too expensive for too many,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy.  “Throughout the pandemic, I heard from Vermonters that when housing is out of reach, so are health, employment, and education.”

Michelle Kersey says, “Those of us who work in affordable housing have been aware of the gap for quite some time, but it really highlighted the fact that there are hundreds of people in Vermont who can’t even afford to rent.”

Kersey works for the nonprofit Downstreet Housing and Community Development group in Barre, while also working with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. That work is critical in a state where someone making minimum wage has to work 64 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment, according to the report.

Kersey said no single approach will solve the problem, so it’s best to get creative and look at the issue from all angles. “Increasing the minimum wage is definitely part of that… Creating more housing that can stay permanently affordable for people on the income spectrum,” she said. “It’s programs like the Rent and Rehab program that was introduced during the pandemic by the Governor’s office, where we offer $30,000 per unit to landlords to take vacant units that have code violations and bring them back online.”

Next year’s state budget includes $250 million towards housing, but when the status quo has people packing up to find somewhere out-of-state, the promise of hope on the horizon doesn’t come as much of a relief. “It’s worrisome for everybody, and God forbid you add on something like a pandemic,” said Kathleen Kelly. “It’s not frustrating, it’s not overwhelming, it’s all-encompassing.”

Kelly is the co-owner of Vermont Mom, a locally-focused parenting resource blog for moms and families. Ashley DiMercurio, a volunteer writer for the blog, recently shared her story of being priced out of the Green Mountain State. Kelly said it’s gained a lot of traction, and it’s also one of many stories of people leaving Vermont.

“We have a whole crew of volunteer writers, and those writers are all typically young families so we hear this all the time, we live this,” Kelly said. “I just think the conversation wasn’t happening. I don’t believe it’s happening, and I don’t think there’s anyone sitting at a table right now in the Legislature that is struggling to house their family.”

Vermont has the 16th most expensive housing wage in the nation and the eighth-most expensive housing wage for rural areas.

“One of the most pressing challenges for Vermonters is the lack of affordable housing,” said Rep. Peter Welch. “This critical need is too often out of reach for working Vermonters.” 

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