Housing Development and Rehabilitation (H.719) - Feb 6, 2024

Legislative Counsel started reviewing Section 15 of H.719 for the House General Committee on Tuesday afternoon. This section creates some time limits on and on venues where they can be brought.

Under the current language, appeals must be brought within 60 days following the case being filed with the Environmental Division in the court system. Legislative Counsel worried that this may be a first for courts (having time limits imposed) and worried there may be some constitutional issues here. They will continue investigating and report back.

Chairman Stevens clarified that the court here is the Environmental Division of The Superior Court. This also dovetails with a possible Housing Board of Appeals (another proposal on the table) that would not be part of the judicial branch at all, but rather part of the executive branch, just with quasi-judicial powers.

Legislative Counsel continued on to explain that for designated development areas that would only be subject to local zoning, a project may be appealed to the Environmental Division. Additionally, it appears that the standard of proof is increasing from a presumption of guilt (those applying for the permit must prove no environmental harm). Now an appellant must exhibit and prove an “injury-in-fact.”

Representative Bartley attempted to offer clarity, saying “we wanted to assure appellants are someone with more skin in the game,” with the new language.

Stevens asked about the Housing Board of Appeals (HBA) idea, wondering how these definitions would dovetail with the concept. Legislative Counsel wasn’t positive but thought they could be interchangeable if policy-makers moved towards an HBA instead of the court system.

Representative Chesnut-Tangerman noted that he had “a lot to catch up on.” He wondered if they installed an HBA if all other municipal and zoning issues would still go to the Environmental Division. Legislative Counsel confirmed that was the case, in addition, commercial and industrial would continue to go there as well.

Stevens moved the conversation towards policy ideas the Committee wanted to advance before crossover (the deadline by which bills need to move from one chamber of the legislature to the other).

Representative Elder asked a vehicle the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (VHIP) issues they have been discussing. It was noted that H.137 would likely be added to the VHIP language. As it stands, Section 24 of H.719 would remove competitive grants from the program, leaving only forgivable loans. It also bumps the lending caps from $50k to $70K per unit.

Stevens added that this program was instituted with ARPA federal funds, which came with strings attached. In part, the Committee is deciding if they want to change the criteria of some of these programs for their own purposes. Bartley noted that part of the reason to convert to forgivable loans is grants can become an “income tax issue.”

An additional $6M would be appropriated for the program in FY2025. Another $2M would go to the Manufactured Home Improvement Repair (MHIR) program and $1M would go to the Healthy Homes Initiative.

The bill would also create a new Housing Infrastructure Revolving Loan Fund that would provide low to no interest loans to residential developers. The fund would be seeded with an $8M appropriation. The bill also earmarks $2.5M for a housing project at the Johnson campus of Vermont State University.

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