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How many vacant homes are in Vermont?

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 11:37 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s hard to tell how many vacant or abandoned homes exist in Vermont, but with the housing crisis, those in the state hope the number isn’t too high.

In a March article, the New York Times claimed Vermont has the highest number of vacant properties nationwide, but local organizations say that data may not paint an accurate picture.

“The only reason to abandon a property is a lack of ability to reinvest in it,” said Shaun Gilpin, with Vermont’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Gilpin says the state doesn’t have an unreasonable number of vacant housing units, but they’re hoping to prevent any from falling into disarray with the Vermont Housing Improvement Program.

VHIP is included in a piece of legislation passed by the Senate, awaiting Governor Scott’s signature.

“Oftentimes property owners, especially low income property owners themselves, weren’t able to put money into investing in these units,” Gilpin continued.

Per the latest census data, 19% of housing stock is considered vacant. Mia Watson, with the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, says the only state with more is Maine.

“In Vermont, the largest share of vacant homes is seasonal homes or vacation homes and that’s over 75% percent of the vacant homes we have in Vermont,” Watson explained.

But ‘vacant properties’ do not include outright abandoned properties. Watson says those are much harder to count.

The latest census says Vermont has 11,355 homes falling into an “other vacant” category. That’s where abandoned homes would be counted, but that number also includes homes under constructions and properties unoccupied for personal reasons.

“When you have few homes for rent or sale, that really pushes up rent and prices. That’s why we’ve been seeing an out of control market for renters the past few years,” Watson explained after sharing the most recently calculated vacancy rate in Chittenden County is roughly 1%.

Watson says a healthy market would have a 4-8% vacancy rate.

VHIP allow property owners $30-50-thousand grants to bring new units back online. That money will be used to get buildings up to code.

“We need to do a better job as a state making sure the habitability rules on the books are actually being adhered to,” Gilpin said.

In turn, this will create a larger housing stock, and hopefully get rents back under control.

“Right now, you have a property owner who can’t rent anything, a tenant with nowhere to go, and it’s a lose lose all around,” Gilpin said of situations where property owners who don’t have funds for essential repairs.

The legislation including VHIP has not yet been signed.

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