By Patricia Herlevi
During the 2020 lockdowns, I grew restless and I decided to relocate to Maine. But friends soon steered me in a different direction — Vermont.
The New England state possessed mystique. I pictured bucolic farms with dairy cows grazing in the distance and a journey down a dirt road that would unearth a moose. This led me to envision me taking my business as an animal communicator to Vermont. And I thought of authoring books in the woods.
I spent months researching businesses and oddities in Vermont and my excitement mounted. But I wish that I had listened to my gut.
At first, I didn’t like the idea because of the harsh winters. I also saw videos mentioning high taxes and that the state didn’t offer much support for a micro business started by a middle-aged person. Plus, hadn’t I heard that the independent businesses were struggling because of the pandemic?
I wasn’t sold on relocating 3,000 miles to a state where I didn’t know anyone. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice everything I’ve ever known to live in the land of Senator Bernie Sanders and maple syrup.
But as the lockdowns wore on, I gazed deeply at Vermont. I researched the state online. I found websites mentioning that the state government reimbursed relocation costs, that Vermont needed young professionals (not a middle-aged animal communicator).
During April of 2021, I contacted Think Vermont (a website that promotes relocating to Vermont hosted by the Vermont Department of Economic Development) and joined a Zoom call for Windham County.
Seduced by images of rivers flowing through forests, I listened to the Think Vermont rep’s encouragement, “You will love Brattleboro. There are cafes, bookstores, and art galleries.” He sold me on the annual literary festival and said I would feel at home among the writers and artists. What he didn’t tell me was that there was no long-term rental housing available in Brattleboro.
Nothing could have prepared me for the housing crisis that I encountered after arriving in Brattleboro by train this past April.
I hung on to the desire to become a member of an artist community and shop at the local food co-op; everything would be within walking distance from my cute apartment, I thought. I was in for a shock.
I never found a long-term rental in Brattleboro or Montpelier, where I eventually ended up. I learned that my name would remain at the bottom of subsidized housing lists unless I went fast-track by staying at a homeless shelter and then a homeless hotel, according to the housing organizations.
The last thing I wanted was to share a room with a recovering addict or person suffering from a severe mental challenge while building my micro business.
Instead of building a business, I spent most of my hours scrambling for expensive (sometimes free) temporary housing. At first I thought there was something wrong with me. But when I shared my experiences, I met others who spent months, if not years, living in temporary rentals while searching for permanent housing. Unfortunately, no one I spoke with agreed to appear in this article. Professionals are either braving Vermont’s housing market or they already left silently.
We’ve heard about employers who have been unable to recruit workers because of the housing situation. While the younger workers share homes with other professionals, this is stressful for older professionals who are used to living alone.
Sadly, the housing options left me dry. I researched nearby states, but New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts touted similar stories about overpriced housing and long lists for subsidized apartments. Vermont was a dead end for me. Returning to Washington state wasn’t an option either, because I wasted thousands of dollars paying for temporary rentals. I was nearly destitute. Meanwhile, I paid for storage for my shipping cube while worrying about black mold.
Having become an expert on gaslighting because of my upbringing and from traumatic events I experienced as an adult (not to mention during the pandemic), I felt that the promoters of Vermont, including Think Vermont were gaslighting starry-eyed people like me.
I contacted Think Vermont and asked the representatives why this government organization was recruiting professionals to move to Vermont when housing was in short supply (in no supply in some cities). The response seemed like someone was placating me rather than taking responsibility for destroying people’s finances. Their backward version of “Field of Dreams” didn’t resonate with me.
Colleges, hospitals, and housing organizations project into the future when new housing will be built. But with the pandemic, rental assistance running out, and funding for the hotels for the homeless nearing its end, what’s going to happen to people who run out of money because they spent it on overpriced hotel rooms and vacation rentals? And then they compete with people who suffer from mental illness and addictions. No professional chooses to live in a tent.
For myself, I experienced the humiliation of pleading for housing on Front Porch Forum. When I was offered rooms in houses to rent (or for free), they were far from ideal. I suffer from multiple chemical sensitivities, severe allergies, and Lyme disease (which I caught in Putney), so sleeping on moldy beds or surviving a weekend among cat hair could have placed me in a hospital emergency room, but thankfully did not.
I don’t want to insult the generous people of Vermont because I experienced grace from several people who gave me discounts on vacation rentals or offered me a room for free (to offset the cost of hotel rooms). However, I spent over $10,000 within six months. I depleted my savings and also borrowed money from relatives and launched two online fundraisers. One landlord who could have rented an apartment to me, but chose not to, caused me to lose another $2,000. That was my final straw.
I relocated 549 miles by train to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. I’m renting a studio for $625 with utilities included. Granted, it’s not Vermont, but it saved my life.
Patricia Herlevi is a long-time journalist as well as a Reiki master, animal communicator, and expert astrologer. She has advocated for alternative and affordable housing for decades, first in Washington state and then later in Vermont. She is writing a memoir on her traumatic experiences in Vermont entitled, “Broken Spirit (The Shattering of Dreams in the Green Mountain State).”