Can it ease the crunch? Sweeping housing bill passes Vermont House

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 5:58 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont House has given the greenlight to a sweeping housing bill. The HOMES Act, the centerpiece housing and land use bill, seeks to ease the housing crunch by reforming strict land-use regulations.

S.100 seeks to ease barriers to building more housing by tackling local and statewide regulations. But some say it falls short.

In a rare move, Vermont lawmakers met on a Monday, kicking off what’s expected to be the final week of the legislative session by tackling a big priority.

“S.100 proposes a large number of tools that address the foundation of allowing more development of housing while respecting the tools and laws we have put in place to prevent haphazard development and sprawl,” said Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury.

The HOMES Act attempts to address Vermont’s housing crisis through regulatory and zoning changes in locations hooked up to water and sewer.

“There are certainly compromises in the bill and we feel as though we have compromised. It’s not the perfect bill from our standpoint but it’s a bill we can support,” said Brian Shupe of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

The bill allows for people to build duplexes by right instead of local approval, and allows for Act 250 exemptions in certain downtown centers for three years.

“It really says let’s be including in how we develop neighborhoods, let’s promote smart growth, walkability and density in a way that does not have an environmental impact,” Shupe said.

“I can tell you that most of the reforms in S.100, they are not going to make your town look different. Many towns have already adopted these suggestions for local land use,” said Ted Brady, the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which represents municipalities.

Brady says the reforms will allow for some development but adds towns gave up local zoning power.

There were few changes made to the now-53-year-old Act 250.

“That’s not an even trade and it will not solve the current housing crisis. It will not even answer the call of the housing crisis,” Brady said.

The debate over S.100 has become a focal point of the legislative session as Vermont grapples with an acute housing shortage. Some blame Act 250 and the sometimes duplicative permitting processes for the scarcity of housing. But others say the law has protected rural Vermont from urban sprawl.

The bill also carves out money for the Vermont Housing Conservation Board and the Vermont Housing Improvement Program, but we don’t know how much.

However, some Republicans voted against it since lawmakers are still working on the budget and there is no specific amount allocated to the bill yet.

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