July 12, 2020
(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: