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New laws will invest $45M into housing

RANDOLPH — Gov. Phil Scott signed two key pieces of legislation Tuesday meant to address the state’s housing crisis.

The press conference and bill signing for S.210 and S.226, held at an in-process housing development at Salisbury Square in Randolph, highlighted legislation that will collectively invest over $45 million.

“Building more housing to address our critical shortage has been a top priority,” Scott said. “In the aggregate, this will amount to the largest state investment in housing we’ve ever seen.”

According to Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, who also spoke at the event, the Legislature passed about $300 million in housing-related funds in the recently concluded biennium.

S.210 includes $20 million for the Vermont Housing Improvement Program, which seeks to bring houses and apartments in disrepair back into the market.

Having run up against the governor’s veto of a statewide rental registry, the Legislature passed S.210, which provides funding for the state Division of Fire Safety to enforce health and housing codes in rental units. In most towns, housing code inspections currently fall to the local health officer, often a volunteer.

S.226 will fund middle-income housing and eliminates the need for developers to get water and sewer permits from both a municipality and the state. It raises the cap on units allowed in projects in densely populated areas from 25 to 50. And it prohibits municipalities from imposing parking requirements of more than one space per bedroom on accessory dwelling units.

The legislation also will offer subsidies to contractors building homes that cost more to construct than their market value. It provides $1 million to assist first-generation home buyers and includes $4 million in grants to make upgrades to mobile homes and mobile home parks.

“I know it’s usually the areas of disagreement that get the most attention,” Scott said. “Here is a great example of how people of different parties can agree on a fundamental problem, put differences aside and work together to find solutions that will benefit our state for decades to come.”

The governor pointed to Springfield and his hometown of Barre as examples of communities that, having lost population, will benefit from the new funding to update vacant properties.

Money for the two new laws comes from both state and federal sources.

In a press release, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, celebrated the bills as an example of a hard-earned compromise.

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to meet housing needs at every level, from affordable housing to middle-income homeownership, and that includes critical updates to rental units and manufactured homes,” she said.

“We’ve also updated policy to make it easier to build housing where we want it, in our downtowns and village centers, and to better ensure that no Vermonter lives in substandard housing.”

Phase I of the project involved developing 14 pedestrian-friendly apartments and one permitted home.

The second phase, now underway, seeks to create 19 solar-powered, net-zero units at the site of the former Ethan Allen furniture plant.

Julie Iffland, the group’s executive director, highlighted the effort in Randolph to create mixed-income housing within walking distance of downtown. The units, powered by solar panels, will be connected by a “microgrid,” sharing power and even allowing the storage of solar energy, Iffland said. The project, she said, works toward the “common-sense desire to make our communities livable.”

During his remarks at the bill signing — the first of its kind since the pandemic began — Scott praised the Randolph initiative as a community-supported way to help ease Vermont’s housing crisis.

The crowd, which numbered about 100, “tells a lot about support you have in Vermont and for housing,” he said.

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