“If not motels, where?” Task Force Aims To Get Vermont’s Homeless Out Of Motels

Motel facade
The Travel Inn in Rutland is one of 75 motels in Vermont where state agencies house approximately 2,700 people who would otherwise be homeless. Photo by Mike Dougherty / VTDigger

Lawmakers have given a new task force five weeks to find a solution for the transition of 2,700 Vermont homeless people from motel rooms to permanent housing.

The eight-member group, established instead of adopting a The Scott administration’s earlier proposal reflects two realities: lawmakers do not have a clear idea of ​​how to resolve the crisis, and the deadline for doing so is looming.

“It’s a hot potato, and leadership is needed,” said Ken Russell, executive director of Another Way, a community welcome center in Montpellier.

“What we need to determine is, if not motels, where?” Said House Social Services Committee chair Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, who helped develop the proposal. “At the end of the day, I’m sorry, people shouldn’t be kicked out on the streets.”

About 2,700 people are currently staying in about 75 motels across the state, a number that has continued to rise throughout the pandemic. The state pays an average of $ 88 per night for each room – a total of around $ 6 million last month and $ 31 million to date, according to Geoffrey Pippenger, senior advisor to the commissioner of the Children’s Ministry and families. So far, the federal government has covered most of the costs, but the state will soon have to foot the bill.

And while the chambers have provided much-needed shelter and space for social distancing, nonprofit housing organizations and police have highlighted security concerns and drug use at the sites. It has proved difficult for clients to find more stable accommodation.

Earlier in the session, state officials proposed that the management of the motel voucher program be handed over to local housing agencies. Social service providers and nonprofit housing administrators have vigorously pushed back the idea, saying it will overwhelm local nonprofits and result in disparate resources and policies across the state. In response, lawmakers called on both sides to return to the negotiating table.

The new group – which will include members of the Social Services Agency, homeless service providers and affordable housing representatives, as well as a staff member from Legal Aid in Vermont – are expected to come up with a plan use of federal money, a long-term strategy. for the state motel voucher program, as well as a budget and timeline for the transition.

The plan, which is due to be submitted to the Legislature by the end of April, is expected to aim to move all Vermonters out of temporary emergency housing – primarily motel rooms – by June 2022.

It will work in conjunction with a second working group focused on building additional housing.

The task force will offer people a chance to take a step back and find a way to use the influx of federal money in a way that can effectively end chronic homelessness for good, said Maryellen Griffin , housing lawyer for Vermont Legal Aid. “Vermont could really do it; it’s really exciting, ”she said. “Vermont is pretty small and pretty tight-knit.”

Sarah Phillips, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, offered a more tempered perspective. “Do I think that we are necessarily going to build an apartment for each household in [the general assistance program] in the next 12 months? No. ”But, she said, the state and housing agencies“ would employ many strategies ”to help families find a safe place to go.

How much money will be available to do this is not yet clear. The state legislature has proposed $ 40 million to be used by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board. The US stimulus package could net Vermont around $ 10 million for new housing development, said Gus Seelig, executive director of the Housing & Conservation Board. The House also allocated $ 50 million for the effort in its budget proposal.

It may not yet be enough.

As Russell from Another Way said, “Morality is simple; the financial part is a challenge.

[Related: ‘The best motel in Rutland’: Three days in Vermont’s emergency housing program]

Seelig said his organization would likely take a variety of approaches to provide more housing: funding housing agencies to buy motels, building new housing, and helping landlords renovate vacant or uninhabitable apartments.

They would speed up efforts to build multi-family units for homeless people, but would also consider other types of demands.

“Congress has focused, as it should, on short-term assistance,” Seelig said. “We have a structural problem; we need more capital to build and renovate housing. Doing this on the scale needed over the next few years will require a significant investment from the federal government, he said.

But the developers, knowing the funding is available, are already working out their proposals to submit to the Housing and Conservation Council this summer, he said.

“We are expecting a lot of good, creative proposals,” he said. “People are already preparing. “

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