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Phil Scott Waives Regulations to Expedite Temporary Housing in Montpelier for Flood Survivors 

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Man walking in front of wood handicap ramp attached to white FEMA trailer.
People walk up the ramp to the FEMA Manufactured Housing Unit in Berlin on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger
By Carly Berlin

This story, by Report for America corps member Carly Berlin, was produced through a partnership between VTDigger and Vermont Public.

As winter weather sets in, Gov. Phil Scott took executive action to expedite temporary housing for people displaced by the summer floods.

Scott signed an addendum to his July Emergency Declaration on Tuesday that temporarily waives local and state regulations for temporary housing group sites set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA will still need to abide by federal regulations as it develops sites.

Jason Maulucci, Scott’s press secretary, said the move is intended to expedite the process of establishing a FEMA group site in Montpelier on a plot of city-owned land on Country Club Road. The governor had been waiting to take action until the city and FEMA signed an agreement to move forward with plans for the site, Maulucci said. Montpelier announced the finalized lease agreement in a press release on Tuesday. 

The order means both city permitting rules — as well as state requirements such as Act 250 review, according to Maulucci — will be waived for 60 days once FEMA begins construction on the site. FEMA plans to install roughly 20 housing units at the site, according to spokesperson Briana Summer Fenton and city officials.

“It’s kind of a preemptive strike, in some respects, to make sure that there aren’t any hiccups along the way — so that they can be built as quickly as possible,” Maulucci said.

FEMA brings in its temporary housing units, commonly referred to as FEMA trailers, when few other local housing options are available after a disaster. The manufactured homes are typically available for displaced households for up to 18 months after a disaster declaration. Following July’s floods, that means the units would be available until January 2025, unless FEMA grants the state an extension. 

In addition to the Montpelier site, FEMA will be providing about a dozen manufactured home units to individuals or families on single pads in commercial parks, Fenton said, though she did not provide information on where.

Montpelier is developing plans for longer-term housing at the Country Club Road site, according to its mayor, Jack McCullough. FEMA’s work to prepare the site for temporary units — including connecting water, power, and sewer to the site — will help the city cover the cost of infrastructure improvements needed for its permanent housing plan, he said.

The city press release notes that the agreement between Montpelier and the federal government will last a year, with the opportunity to extend for an additional year. The lease includes provisions for a P.O. Box system for residents, a bus stop within the group housing site, and 24-hour security provided by FEMA.

FEMA is paying Montpelier $42,768 per month for use of the site, according to the city’s release.

When flood survivors can expect to move in is still unclear. The release from Montpelier says that while the build-out timeline is unknown at this time, FEMA estimates residents will be able to move in 30 to 60 days after construction begins. Fenton said the agency will be getting a design back from its contractor later this week “and will have a better idea then.”

In late August, FEMA coordinating officer Will Roy told reporters that the agency hoped initial trailers would be habitable by mid- to late-September. 

McCullough expressed frustration at the agency’s slow pace.

“They told us it would be in place before winter, and winter in Vermont is already here,” he said. “So it’s got to happen fast.”

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