Anne Sosin (Interim Director, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition) spoke to the House General & Housing Committee on Thursday about Housing and Homelessness. She cast homelessness as a housing problem and a "policy choice," reiterating that they are "aligned" with other advocates supporting the S.100 housing bill.
Her priorities included:
- Eliminating homelessness (funding does not eliminate the impacts or costs of homelessness).
- Providing strong evidence for interventions to address homelessness.
- Housing people with sever mental illness - this increases retention rates, health outcomes, and yields cost benefits.
The Committee asked Kathleen Berk (Executive Director, Vermont State Housing Authority) come in and give an update on the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) as it affected housing policy in the state. She reminded the Committee that VERAP would sunset on June 30, 2023. She reported that many households under VERAP would become rent burdened when this happens:
- 826 will pay more than 100% of their household income toward rent.
- 216 will pay between 76% to 100% of their household income toward rent.
- 347 will pay between 51% to 75% of their household income toward rent.
- 118 will pay between 41% to 50% of their household income toward rent.
- 142 will pay between 30% to 40% of their household income toward rent.
- The first instance of amendment raises the required density in areas zoned for residential and served by sewer and water infrastructure from at least 4 units per acre to 5 units per acre.
- The second instance changes Section 6. which defines who can appeal municipal planning decisions. S.100 would have removed the ability under the current law of any combination of 10 voters and property owners from from a town to appeal municipal zoning change. The Committee's amendment restores that language but narrows it so that only a group of ten voters/owners who have a common injury to a "particularized interest" would be allowed to appeal. Notably, it excludes "character of the area" as an injury that can be appealed under this subdivision.
- The third instance changes Sec. 13 which relates to a town’s ability to adopt building energy codes. S.100 would have prohibited towns from adopting energy codes that are more strict than the state energy codes, unless they have a charter provision or unless they received approval from the Department of Public Service (DPS). The Committee's amendment removes the language that would allow DPS approve stricter codes (therefore making it harder to adopt municipal energy codes).
- The fourth instance changes adds a new Act 250 jurisdictional trigger which is 25 units of housing located in a downtown, neighborhood development area, or growth center. This is a temporary provision that sunsets on July 1, 2026. It also removes the cap on the number of priority housing units that are exempt if located in one of these same three designated area. This is a temporary provision that sunsets on July 1, 2026. Essentially what this does is incentivize the development of priority housing projects by exempting them and but forcing all other projects to follow Act 250 process.
- The fifth instance adds a new section that allows municipalities to apply for master plan permits under Act 250 for their designated downtown areas. With a master plan, future development in the downtown would only need an Act 250 permit amendment, not an individual permit.
- The sixth instance adds a provision stating that in order for someone to be exempt under the new temporary Act 250 exemptions, they need to apply for a jurisdictional opinion, stating they would be exempt by July 1, 2026. Construction of exempt housing projects would need to be substantially completed by June 30, 2029.
- The seventh instance adds an enhanced Village Center designation. A town can receive enhanced designation for a Village Center if they have permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws, municipal sewer, alternative or community sewer, or water infrastructure, and adequate municipal staff. Priority housing projects located in Enhanced Village Centers would require 50 or more units to trigger Act 250.
This is a temporary provision that sunsets on July 1, 2026. It also adds language to the statute that sets the requirements for a Neighborhood Development Area. It adds municipal sewer, alternative or community sewer, or water infrastructure to that definition.
- The eighth instance deletes the Sections 24-25; the wastewater permit connection sections. It inserts in their place the language from H.332 which would create a summer study committee on how to increase compliance with the Residential Building Energy Standards (RBES) and the Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES). It also appropriates $125K for the study.
S.100 was brought to the Senate Floor on Tuesday afternoon and was passed unanimously. It returned to Senate Natural Resources Committee for a typographical error on the jurisdictional opinion language in two sunset provisions. That language was corrected in the Committee.