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WATCH: How can Vermont address its housing crisis? With Jenn White

Jenn White, host of WAMU’s 1A, joined panelists Maura Collins, executive director of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency; Carly Berlin, housing and infrastructure reporter for Vermont Public and VTDigger; and Nancy Owens, president and co-founder of the affordable housing and community development nonprofit Evernorth, to discuss housing in Vermont.

The median home price in Vermont reached $325,000 in 2023, up 5% from 2022. And last year, the number of home sales in Vermont was the lowest since 2012.

Collins said underbuilding, high interest rates and systemic issues in the state are contributing to the lack of affordable housing. Berlin said Vermont is in the midst of a housing gridlock, and lawmakers have been wrestling over the best way to support a greater supply of housing. Owens said the system feels broken. White asked panelists about the people who are most likely to be shut out of the housing market in Vermont.

Collins said that low-income households and households made up of people of color are less likely to own homes in the state. In Vermont, the white home ownership rate is above 70%, while the Black home ownership rate is around 30%.

“Something needs to happen differently, because when you talk about who’s really not being served, you’re talking about the fastest-growing segment of our population right now, which is people of color,” Collins said.

White and the panelists also discussed and answered questions about how housing in Vermont is paired with conservation, Act 250, construction costs, local zoning, short-term rentals and an aging housing stock made up of many homes that are too large for the average sizes of households in the state.

At the end of the panel, White asked what questions people at the event should be asking themselves, as well as something actionable they can do. Here’s what each panelist said:

Nancy Owens: What change am I willing to accept? And is the change that’s happening around us now in Vermont one I want to accept, or am I going to do something so that we’re shaping the change that we are looking for?

Jenn White: And one thing that someone can do today?

Nancy Owens: Attend a zoning meeting.

Carly Berlin: I would invite the question of, if you’re someone who wants to see more housing get built, is there a zoning meeting you can show up at to say, “Yes,” when that voice is very rarely in the room?

Maura Collins: I think the best thing we can do is believe the people we’re hearing from, whether it’s people with the direct lived experience, … whether it’s from a homebuilder who’s telling us the numbers don’t work, whether it’s from the overhoused older Vermonter. … We have to believe the voices that we’re hearing and then see what we can do to act on that. I would then say that the action we can take is to take that next step. … I would say maybe look at our website to see if there’s a housing commission for your community yet. And if there’s not, let's get one going.

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