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Washington-Chittenden: Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington & Buels Gore

Rental and Foreclosure Assistance Available July 13

July 12, 2020

reptomstevens

(This is the second in a short series of updates of the work we accomplished in the General Assembly this past session (so far!) to help Vermonters cope with the crisis brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.)

One of the key elements of the current public health crisis that became crystal clear in the moments prior to our leaving the State House in March was the effects this would have on our homeless and low income households in Vermont. Given the incredible increase in our unemployment rate (mitigated in large part by the extra money available at least until the end of this month), we have been worried about an increase in evictions due to nonpayment of rent. Given the amount of time and energy and money we have spent in housing Vermonters experiencing homelessness, we also focussed on keeping Vermonters housed through a series of temporary law that prevents evictions due to the nonpayment of rent.

With these laws, and with the economic downturn, we also wanted to provide rental arrearages so that landlords, a good percentage of them “mom and pops” property owners who cannot afford to miss mortgage or tax payments, would be kept as whole as possible.

Given the difficulties with teasing out what is legal and eligible under the CARES Act, and the potential for abuse balanced against known need, we were proud to offer the first “tranche” of funding that will help keep Vermonters in their home during this public health crisis, which will also provide stability during what is a very unstable time, both in Vermont and in the nation.

H.966, which was signed into law by Governor Scott and the programs in which will be available starting on July 13, did the following for tenants and landlords:

1. Tenants may find funding to provide backrent to their landlord. This is a process developed by Legal Aid and the Landlords Assn and will be run through the Vermont State Housing Authority. The guidelines appear in the bill, but in short, tenants may find help through this bill, with money being paid directly to landlords. Landlords will have to agree to not evicting a tenant through this year. ($800K total for the organizations, $25m for rental assistance).

2. Low-income homeowners will find some foreclosure protection funds available, and the program will be run through the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, which has experience in working through these issues with their customers. Vermonters need not have a loan through VHFA to qualify for these funds or for their consultancy. ($5m) Interested mortgagors should contact VHFA for further information and guidelines.

3. The Dept. of Housing and Community Development will manage funding for rehabilitation of apartments for property owners who have vacant or blighted unoccupied dwelling units and who want to bring them online, with the bulk of these units to go to Vermonters who are homeless. Qualified property owners will receive up to a $30K grant with a 10% match for repairs that help bring the units up to habitation codes. DHCD and VSHA think there will be a full subscription of these funds, which may provide up to 200 units. ($6.2m) Interested property owners should contact DHCD for guidelines and application forms.

Here are the websites for the organizations that will have the information you will need if you need this help, or wish to take advantage of funding to bring apartments back online for use by currently homeless or extremely low income Vermonters:

http://www.vhcb.org
http://www.vhfa.org
http://www.vsha.org
http://www.vtlegalaid.org
http://www.vtlandlord.com
https://accd.vermont.gov/housing

Getting Relief to Vermonters During COVID-19

June 28, 2020

reptomstevens

(This is the first in a series of recaps to the recent end of this portion of the legislative session in Vermont. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, our session extended from the expected end in mid-to-late May until now, and we will return at the end of August to finish our work, primarily the rest of the budget. We are reacting first to the public health crisis, which, while it seems “contained” in Vermont, is by no means over, and secondly to the economic crisis brought on by the public health crisis. When we return in August, we hope that we will have a better handle on what funds will be available to help us make our ends meet in the coming fiscal year, and what it will mean to our tax base, our property taxes and the services we’re expected to provide to Vermonters in the coming months.)

Over the past several weeks the Vermont Assembly has finalized $1B in Corona Relief Funds (CRF) to help Vermonters, including over $235 million for businesses, farms and non-profits who have suffered significant losses due to COVID-19.  In order to get these dollars out quickly to help stabilize various sectors of our community, a variety of agencies and organizations are handling different sectors, and are doing their best to get programs up quickly and get these much needed economic relief dollars out the door. Due to the everchanging Treasury guidelines, and the reality that most if not all businesses that were adversely affected by the onset of the COVID-19 crisis could not handle more loans, we responded within those guidelines in a way that we expect to be helpful. Please follow the links below to the agencies that will be handling requests for these funds.

Below is a partial guide that I hope will help local businesses and non-profits in accessing these vital economic relief grants. Please reach out to Rep. Theresa Wood or me via email if you need additional help in connecting with these resources: tstevens@leg.state.vt.us or twood@leg.state.vt.us.

We will be posting further updates in the days to come that will explain much of our other work on getting the CRF out to Vermonters.

Economic Recovery Grants

$50 million for businesses who file sales, meals or rooms tax, available now.                        www.tax.vermont.gov/coronavirus#relief

$102 million Grants for businesses and non-profits, guidelines will be posted week of June 29th
www.accd.vermont.gov

$30.5 million for dairy farms and producers, agricultural businesses, food markets and agricultural fairs, guidelines will be posted week of June 29th
www.agriculture.vermont.gov/grants

questions email: agr.covidresponse@vermont.gov

$5 million for arts and cultural organizations and creative businesses Being developed and guidelines will be posted soon.
www.vermontartscouncil.org/covid-19

$5 million for women & minority-owned businesses. Being developed by the VT Commission on Women and by guidelines will be posted soon.
www.accd.vermont.gov

$5.5 million for forest economy stabilization and outdoor recreation businesses. Being developed and by guidelines will be posted soon.
https://anr.vermont.gov/grants

$3.5 million for working lands program
https://workinglands.vermont.gov/

2020 Town Meeting Report

March 2, 2020

reptomstevens

Here is a link to the 2020 Town Meeting Report from Theresa and me.

Also, here’s a quick recap of the bills that have been passed through the House prior to our Town Meeting Break:

H.254 – An act requiring adequate shelter for livestock. This bill updated definitions for adequate “constructed” shelters and adequate “natural” shelters and requires that any leash, rope or chain used to restrict an animal be used so that it does not entangle the animal and it must still allow access to shelter, food and water.

H.555 – An act relating to food concessions on state property or buildings. This bill allows the Department of Buildings and General Services to adopt rules governing the sale of food concessions on state properties for nonprofit organizations; previously this has been prohibited.

H.580 – An act relating to classification for criminal offenses. This bill sets up a classification system (Class A – Class E) for criminal offenses, including maximum fines and imprisonment for each.

H.635 — An act relating to long term care facilities. This bill strengthens the receivership laws for long term care facilities when the State takes control of such facilities due to health and safety of residents.

H.926 – An act relating to changes to Act 250. Act 250 is Vermont’s land use law; the current law is now 50 years old having been enacted under the administration of Governor Deane Davis. This bill modernizes the act, including streamlining of permitting in designated downtowns and villages.

H.934 – An act relating to renter rebate reform. This bill significantly streamlines the renter rebate program for very low income Vermonters, as well as simplifying the administration of the program in the Tax Department.

S.23 – An act relating to increasing the minimum wage. This was a bill that passed the House and Senate earlier this year and was vetoed by the Governor. The Senate overrode the veto a couple of weeks ago and this week the House did as well on a vote of 100-49. This bill is now law and the minimum wage will raise to $12.55 over the next two years and then it is indexed to consumer prices. The bill does not go to $15.00/hour which was under debate last year.

S.54 – An act relating to the regulation of cannabis. This bill implements a tax and regulate system for cannabis. Cannabis was legalized in Vermont in 2018. The total taxation on the product is 20% through a combination of sales and excise taxes. Prevention and education efforts will utilize up to 30% of tax receipts. Towns will have the option to “opt in” to retail sales establishments.

Please make sure to follow our occasional updates, and don’t hesitate to contact me at tstevens@leg.state.vt.us with further questions.