The session’s major Housing bill, S.100, arrived on the House Floor Monday. Speaker Krowinski announced they would only receive the committee reports and then adjourn for committees of jurisdiction to consider amendments before returning. No votes would be taken during this floor session.
Three members of the General and Housing Committee walked through the major sections of the bill: Representative Stevens, Representative Wilson, and Representative Chesnut-Tangerman. The Committee had voted 8-4-0 on the Eviction Diversion Program and had a separate vote of 12-0-0 on the underlying bill.
Representative Bongartz shared the report from the Environment & Energy Committee, which was a strike-all amendment. He highlighted the complexity of having multiple policy committees of jurisdiction but noted that they worked well together. The Committee voted 11-0-0 in favor of the bill as amended.
Representative Demrow reported for the Ways & Means Committee. The major thing this Committee looked as was the potential reduction in Act 250 permitting fees as a result of some of the new “exemptions.” The Joint Fiscal Office was not able to accurately predict these, but they did not believe the fiscal impacts would be significant.
Representative Lanpher reported the bill for the Appropriations Committee, which included an amendment that would do two things: all the funding would be moved into the budget bill, additionally they made all of the appropriations for housing “contingent on appropriation” of available resources. Basically, this means they are not fully committing to funding these initiatives, but if funding ‘happens’ to be become available then these programs would receive their funding.
NOTE: This potentially signals the value that legislators are placing on housing development if they are willing to put a mechanism like this in place on these programs.
Krowinski announced they would now hear the committee straw votes on various aspects of the bill as well as all the amendments being offered.
Stevens reviewed the amendment being offered by the Environment & Energy Committee which dealt with zoning appeals and exempting some housing projects from Act 250 review triggers. The amendment also included language asked for by Green Mountain Power to make building facilities to improve grid reliability easier to accomplish under Act 250 review. The Committee found the amendment favorable 10-0-2.
Also reviewed was an amendment from Bongartz which would prevent appeals for the “character of the area” if the project in question had an affordable housing component. A second provision in the amendment would fully exempt electric utilities from Act 250 review for rebuilding existing distribution lines or building facilities to improve reliability to existing customers. This provision would sunset in 2026 and require annual reporting back to the legislature on the usage of this provision. The Committee found this amendment favorable on a 9-2 vote.
A representative from Burlington questioned how affordability would be guaranteed and they wouldn’t just be creating more “market rate” housing. Bongartz responded that the priority housing projects and raised caps would do that indirectly but not as a mandate.
The Burlington representative spoke to the need for a “laser focus” on affordability and argued that offering “all these exemptions without any accountability” would lead to more mixed housing at market rates which is a problem in Burlington. She was also not impressed with the lack of a revolving loan fund to keep the new housing units affordable perpetually. Since it won’t solve her problem in Burlington, she will be voting no.
The committee amendment passed on a voice vote overwhelming. The amendment from the Environment & Energy Committee was also agreed to on a voice vote.
Representative Higley presented his amendment regarding the new Residential Building Energy Standards. These will likely demand lots of changes: including high efficiency air handling, solar ready zones, electrification, including EV ready installations, upgrading electric service panels, LED required entire home etc. He is proposing they push out these requirements for a couple years because these items are projected to increase construction costs per unit by between $18K and $28K.
Representative Parsons offered an amendment that would add a landlord/owner notification of utility disconnections for a unit they own or manage. Notifications would be sent even if the owner or landlord is not the ratepayer. The intent is to allow remote disconnection notices that might prevent a danger to their employees.
Representative Stevens shared that the General & Housing Committee had considered the amendment and supported it on a 10-0-2. The House agreed on a voice vote.
The House voted convincingly on a voice vote to advance the bill to third reading.