Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The challenges of living on a fixed income in a state where the taxes keep going up

Vermont Farmhouse with mobile home behind farmhouse.
Juanita Nunn
Juanita Nunn's mobile home in Calais sits behind her historic farmhouse. She says she's had to sell off land and move into the mobile home because she can’t keep up with taxes and fuel prices.

Many Vermont towns have town plans, which lay out visions for towns in eight-year increments. The town of Calais is currently revising its plan, and reporter Erica Heilman, who’s a resident of Calais — went to a recent planning session held by the town plan committee.

There she met her neighbor, Juanita Nunn, who told the meeting attendants that she was selling off land a piece at a time, and moving into a mobile home behind her farmhouse because she can’t keep up with taxes and fuel prices. Erica stopped by to talk with Juanita about the challenges of staying in the home she’s been in for 33 years, a home that’s been in her late husband’s family since 1899.

This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Juanita Nunn: I have a trailer sitting out behind the house now that I'm going to be moving into in the spring. It will be a lot easier and cheaper to heat. It'll be comfortable. It won't be this house — it will be very different. For example, that room, that’s the parlor, it's called the parlor. People have died in there. People have been born in there — it's wonderful. But I can't keep this house going. There's too much that needs done to it.

So I'm doing what I have to do to take care of me, is the way I look at it. And I'm not sure how my husband would feel about it. I think he would understand, but he wouldn't be happy. And sometimes it makes me sad. But by selling land, I should have less taxes. And I will have some money to do what I need to, to move into the trailer.

Picture of a window in an old farmhouse, peeling paint, dead flowers in window
Tobin Anderson
Vermont Public
Juanita Nunn says she plans to tear down the old farmhouse on her property.

Erica Heilman: What’s your plan? What are you going to do with the house?

Juanita Nunn: Tear it down. Gradually, little by little. Just because, what else can I do with it? You know, someone might like to buy it and fix it up. But they'd be in my front yard. And I have had people say to me, ‘Well, why don't you sell that and put your house somewhere else on the property?' But this is the best spot on the property. And I just decided I'm taking care of me, and I'm keeping the best for me dammit. Why not?

Erica Heilman: What have been the financial challenges here? When did they start? What's the story of the difficulty of keeping this place?

Juanita Nunn: Well, there's always been financial challenges even before my husband died. And then you know, after he died, the biggest challenge is heat and taxes. They’re the biggest financial challenges that I have had. But, you know, when I'm not stressing about money, I feel like I have a good life. I'm content. It's the issues of, how am I going to pay my taxes every year? You never know from year to year what the taxes are going to be. So it's, makes it very hard to plan.

Erica Heilman: So at a meeting like that one or at a town meeting, if you express concern about affordability, do you feel like people hear you?

Juanita Nunn: I certainly feel like people would acknowledge it and express sympathy. But nothing would happen. Nothing would change. Partly because they don't know what to do. And partly because it's not them. But I don't want a handout. And I'm sure other people don't either. I don't know what the answer is, but something needs to happen. And you need to include people like me in the discussion, because honestly, when I went to the meeting, the people who were there are who I would have expected to be there. And I knew most of them. And they're wonderful people, I like them. Some of them are friends. But the people who show up at these meetings, they don't have to wonder how they're going to pay their taxes, they've got enough money to do it. And the people who need to be there are the ones who don't have the money or don't know how they're going to get the money. They need to be at these meetings.

Erica Heilman: You can make it easy to get to a meeting or come to a meeting or whatever.

Juanita Nunn: There are people who just don't do that. But if you don't find a way to talk with these people who don't participate, nothing is going to improve for them because you don't know what they need, or what's important to them.

Erica Heilman: Right and the comeback to that is, ‘Well then you've got to participate.’

Juanita Nunn: Well, it's a valid point, but they live in town and they pay taxes too. So, they should be taken into account, and you need to figure out some way to include those who aren't willing to participate.

And I think the reason they aren't willing to participate is because they think it won't make a damn bit of difference. I think they feel like they're being talked down to. You feel like you're not being heard. Money is power. And people with money and the power are the ones who make the rules. Even in a small town, I think that's true, to some extent, at least.

Old Vermont barn in winter, metal roof coming off, barn is leaning
Tobin Anderson
Vermont Public
Juanita Nunn is selling parts of her land in hopes of reducing taxes.

Erica Heilman: We're talking about a bunch of well-meaning people who were at a meeting about the future of a town. What do they need to do to get a little closer to understanding what it means to be poor?

Juanita Nunn: I think they need to talk to more people. I mean, if you have to, go to people's houses and knock on their door and — some people will say, 'no,' and close the door, but I'm sure there are people who would say — like if someone did that to me, I would say, ‘Ah! Come in! Yeah. I'd love to talk to you.’ You know, and say, ‘What could we do in town to make life more affordable, so you can stay here where you want to be? Where you're from.'

I've lived here 33 years. I grew up in Peacham. I want to stay here. I love where I live.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
Latest Stories