A New ShelterA winter emergency shelter opened its doors Monday, Nov. 13, at the former Elks Club on Country Club Road, a property acquired by the city in 2022. According to a memo from the city’s Homelessness Task Force, the shelter will offer 15 beds until April 30, 2024. However, the memo also stated: “There are more people currently outside than the winter overflow shelter will accommodate,” and Good Samaritan Haven’s 61 beds across three shelters are nearly full. On top of that, Task Force member Meredith Warner (also a staff member at Good Samaritan Haven) noted that the shelters and Another Way in Montpelier serve adults only, not families with children. Hedding United Methodist Church in Barre has been serving families, she said, and “they were seeing an increase in parents and children living both in motels and campers and sometimes in cars as well.” At its most recent count, the Barre Unified Union School District has 83 students without permanent housing (see story, page 11).
Proposal to Restrict Short-Term HousingA 0% housing vacancy rate in Montpelier prompted the city to create a Housing Committee a year ago. One of the committee’s first recommendations — which the council voted unanimously to pursue — is to restrict short-term rentals through a city ordinance. Rebecca Copans, a member of Committee, presented two recommendations.. The first: limit short-term rentals to “properties declared as an owner’s homestead, and incorporate registration, data collection, adherence to safety codes, and enforcement requirements,” per the task force’s memo to the council. A second recommendation calls for an 8% local options tax on gross receipts of all short-term rentals, to be voted on at the 2024 Town Meeting. Doing so requires a city charter change, so Copans stressed “we do not want the underlying policy to get caught up in this more complicated proposal.” The “underlying policy” amounts to this, Copans said: “If you live in your home, if you have a property that you declare as your homestead, you can rent out a room, you can rent out the entire home, if you have a duplex you can continue to rent out … as long as it’s your homestead.” But, in order to buck a growing national trend of housing stock getting bought up by investors, “we’re drawing a line in the sand on a property that is not your homestead.” Those who own an investment property solely for short-term rental income “can rent long-term, or sell it,” she said. As the memo put it: “What the Committee intends to restrict is when whole units are diverted from the long-term housing market into short-term rentals for investment income.” “Our goal is to support people who work here, who volunteer here, who attend our schools, who want to live in Montpelier because they just can’t find housing,” Copans said. “The goal is to increase the long-term housing supply. If we can increase the overall numbers, it will drive down prices and increase affordability as well.” Dan Lindner, who said he runs an Airbnb in part of his garage on upper Main Street, objected to the local options tax. He said he rents the space for $80 a night, plus fees that bring the total to “around $150.” “By the time we add the local options tax of 8%, I’m concerned that that increase will impact our ability to rent the place for the modest fee that we do,” Lindner said. “A quick 8% on $80 … is not that much,” said Jessica Oparowski, who urged the council to approve the proposal. The proposal around short-term housing is only one of several initiatives the Housing Committee is working on, Copans reported, noting that this one is “low hanging fruit,” and can happen more quickly than longer-term solutions, such as housing projects projected for the city-owned Country Club Road property, which will take years to develop. “While we might not see as many short-term rentals … or investor opportunities [as other areas of Vermont], I think the tide is just beginning,” said Emma Zavez, chair of the Housing Committee. “We have arrived. We are in a housing crisis. We have lots of unsheltered people. We have lots of people working here who can’t afford a place to live. Every unit of housing counts at this moment. These units exist right now. They are ready right now. They could be long-term housing for community members.”
Stories about Housing
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- The Climate Crisis is Driving Our Housing and Labor Crises
- Nowhere to Go: A Quest for Non-Existent Rentals
- ‘We Are in a Housing Crisis’
Winter Shelter Opens at Elks Club, Council Approves Proposal to Restrict Short-Term Rentals