Housing vouchers will go further as federal government takes note of Vermont’s costly rental market
This story, by Report for America corps member Carly Berlin, was produced through a partnership between VTDigger and Vermont Public.
As the federal government takes note of Vermont’s rising rental prices, housing voucher recipients in Vermont could get more aid as they compete for apartments on the private market.
“Fair market” rent for a two-bedroom apartment — as calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this fall — increased by more than 10% for every Vermont county over the last federal fiscal year, which ended in September.
The Burlington metro area, which includes Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, saw the largest single-year increase for a two-bedroom unit in the state: 16.84%.
The increases are an indication that rents are on the rise across Vermont. The government’s recognition of these higher costs also means that housing voucher recipients could see greater subsidies, giving them more buying power as they seek places to rent.
“It allows for the voucher program to be more competitive in a very strong rental market,” said Kathleen Berk, executive director of the Vermont State Housing Authority.
HUD releases new fair market rent figures each fall. Incorporating both public data and private sector data from sites such as Zillow and Apartment List, the figures are an estimate of 40th percentile gross rents in a given area, or the point at which 40% of apartments are less expensive and 60% are more expensive. Gross rent includes both rent and utility costs.
Nationwide, HUD set an average increase of a little over 12% for fair market rents in fiscal year 2024.
The federal housing choice voucher program provides households with subsidies to pay for rental housing on the private market.
Local housing authorities get funding from HUD and administer the vouchers to renters. They also have the power to set their own voucher payment standards, which can range from 90% to 110% of the fair market rent figure. Over the last few years, HUD has given local housing authorities the ability to set that payment standard even higher: at 120% of the fair market rent.
When HUD increases fair market rents, public housing authorities can increase the amount of subsidy they’re able provide a household, Berk said.
Berk hopes the increased fair market rent could help more Vermont renters secure housing — because for many, finding a place to rent with a voucher in hand has proven challenging.
Only about a quarter of VSHA’s voucher recipients are able to find an apartment at the appropriate rental cost and quality, Berk said. When households aren’t able to find a place to use their voucher, they eventually have to turn it back to the housing authority, she said.
Stephanie Bixby, director of rental assistance for the Burlington Housing Authority, said the issue isn’t simply the cost of housing: the housing authority can find units that meet its payment standards for vouchers. The problem is that there aren't enough of them.
“Lack of inventory is a huge issue,” she said.
Bixby said larger families — those seeking 4-6 bedroom homes — have had a particularly hard time finding suitable rentals to use their vouchers. The Burlington Housing Authority, which covers Burlington and other parts of Chittenden County, has a 900 to 1,000 household-long waitlist, she said. It typically takes years to get off the list, she added.
Bixby said she thinks the fair market rent increase could open up more options for renters.
“Our hope is that it will have a positive impact on our participants being able to procure housing,” she said.
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