Letter, Opinion

Admirable intentions, but real obstacles ignored

Dear Editor,

We read that Bridge to Rutland (B2R), a well-meaning grass-roots project, is laying plans to bring asylum seekers to Rutland. I am bucking the current here, but has anyone given any thought to how and where any numbers of asylum seekers will actually live here in Rutland?

I have spent the last nine months combing central Vermont for an affordable place to buy or rent, whether an apartment, a mobile home, a house, or even a parcel of land, for myself to move to. Part of that time I walked around downtown Rutland as a Census worker, and I have seen the conditions low-income people live in: cramped dark basement or attic rooms, up rickety outdoor staircases that collect snow and ice in winter, worn-out buildings owned by absentee landlords who are clearly milking them for rent.

The house fire at the corner of Baxter and Library is a good example: Tinder-dry, built almost 150 years ago, with possibly squatters occupying the third floor (which is now a skeleton of charred timbers), that building was a disaster waiting to happen.

In the meantime, Rutland is wooing numbers of white-collar newcomers, who, as they wait to find something to buy, are occupying apartments at inflated rents. Today I spoke with a landlord who said literally hundreds of people applied for his apartment outside Rutland, and his Facebook Marketplace post scored thousands of likes.

Even a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, in a crowded, noisy, cluttered neighborhood is no longer considered affordable, even if it does meet the HUD standard of fair market rent – which itself is based squarely on what the market will bear.

Some buyers are investors, planning to “flip” a made-over building at a hefty profit, or convert it to an Airbnb. In other cases, former multiunit houses or duplexes are being converted to single family residences, further contributing to the rental scarcity.

So given this extreme housing shortage, there is basically no room for a new population, which already needs everything, to move into Rutland.

It must be noted that support and some benefits, including the right to work, are only available after asylum has been granted, and that is not a sure thing. It is a very long process with many legal hurdles, and applicants may not reap any benefits during the process. Once granted asylum, migrants can  contact an approved refugee resettlement agency for help with cash and housing costs, English lessons, job training and placement, and mental health counseling, according to the law website, nolo.com. Bridge to Rutland is budgeting for $810 per month in settling-in costs. Is that even realistic? The answer must be “No.”

I ask such groups, as well-meaning as they are, to get real and seriously consider the impact of bringing a needy cohort of people with nowhere else to go, into a community of needy people with nowhere else to go. Not to mention the inevitable pushback from locals who see themselves as being first in line. Labeling the backlash “racist” will not get rid of the problem.

Governor Scott, I admire you a lot, but how exactly are “more people,” who are coming here emptyhanded, going to make our region more “economically secure?”

Somebody needs to take their blinders off. Idealism is admirable, but it must take into account real conditions.

Julia Purdy, Rutland

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