By Governor Phil Scott
Editor’s note: Gov. Scott delivered the following remarks as part of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition (VHCC) Legislative Week kick-off, Wednesday, Feb. 9:
It is good to be with you to talk about some of the most important issues facing our state, like housing, supporting rural Vermont and protecting our natural resources. And I’m pleased to report, these are areas I’ve emphasized, and invested in, as well.
In January, I laid out an agenda that prioritizes growing our workforce, supporting our kids and strengthening our communities.
And as I’ve said for the last two years, thanks to billions in federal aid, we have a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to make a real difference. But in order to make the most of this moment, we have to be strategic and make smart investments in tangible projects that have been out of reach for far too long.
If we stay focused, we can grow the economy in every county, leaving Vermont in far better financial shape than it has ever been.
These principles are important for all of our initiatives and especially when it comes to the $1 billion we received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Specifically, I proposed using ARPA funds for housing; water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure; broadband; help for businesses; and projects that make us more resilient to climate change and move us closer to our emissions goals.
Strengthening our communities will keep more Vermonters here and attract more workers and families, which we so desperately need.
As we work to reverse our workforce shortage, it’s important to recognize that all of this — housing, infrastructure, broadband, cell service and protecting our natural resources — is workforce policy.
In my view, housing that workers and families can afford is a top priority. This is why I proposed investing heavily in housing, and I put much of that money in our budget adjustment (BAA) proposal.
As many of you may know, the BAA makes midyear changes to the fiscal year budget, typically to fund urgent needs that can’t or shouldn’t wait for funding through the normal legislative process, which usually ends in May.
Seeing the housing need as urgent, I asked for about half of this session’s $145 million housing proposal to be passed in budget adjustment. Unfortunately, the Legislature hasn’t supported that yet. I hope we can still move most of these initiatives forward as quickly as possible over the next few months, but it won’t be as quick if it is not put back in the BAA.
Over the last year, we’ve focused heavily on permanent housing for homeless Vermonters.
As a result — and with help from VHCC and its partners — we have built about 800 new affordable units with another 800 under development, and helped over 1,300 struggling families transition out of homelessness.
A big part of this work has been in our Vermont Housing Improvement Program. VHIP has helped add 251 units across the state, and 50% of those have housed the homeless. I’ve proposed another $20 million for this program and, again, I’m disappointed the Legislature did not leave it in budget adjustment, but I hope to still see it make it through.
All of this is important, but I also want to stress to you today our need to do more for what I’m calling the “missing middle.”
Right now, the supply of affordable homes is practically non-existent. In December, the median home price in Vermont was more than $369,000. Last month, according to the Vermont Association of Realtors, there were only 136 homes for sale that a middle-income family can afford.
So, in addition to the tens of millions of dollars I have proposed for more mixed-income housing, my team is pushing a creative approach that will help make it profitable to build more housing for middle-income families so that developers, including some of the non-profit partners in this meeting, can actually afford to build it.
This missing middle income housing initiative is backed with $15 million, and it is another area where we need more support for quick action in the Legislature.
Housing is only one piece of the puzzle, and we are fortunate to have so many opportunities to put our state further down a path where every region — and every community — has greater economic prosperity.
With that in mind, I’ve also proposed significant investments to help revitalize more downtowns, expand our outdoor recreation economy, support agriculture and working lands, address climate change and help more businesses and non-profits survive and recover from the pandemic.
As I said, all these things are critical to keeping workers here and attracting more of them. But I’ve also proposed a number of initiatives to increase training, support career and technical education, recruit and retain more healthcare and childcare workers and much more.
If we stay focused on addressing these long-standing challenges — and doing the hard work to plan for all of this federal money before one-off bills are passed — we can make sure we get this right and make a significant, lasting difference for Vermonters and for future generations to come.