March 25, 2016
Creating housing that is affordable is expensive. That paradox paralyzes everyone who can identify the need for affordable housing and housing that is affordable. If you are a private developer and building a new house or new rental units, the sweet financial spot you have to meet after purchase of land, infrastructure (especially water and septic), permitting, labor and construction loans, along with profit, is pretty high and can make that housing unaffordable for most Vermonters. If you are a nonprofit developer, you have the same costs and many, if not more, regulatory hurdles to overcome, but you have mechanisms that allow for outside investment, and that allow for rents that are affordable to Vermonters at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
The need for affordable housing, and housing that is affordable, is clear. Housing is a key component to economic development and growth in Vermont. Without housing, businesses will have a harder time choosing to locate here, or to grow here. Without housing, working Vermonters will not be able to afford to rent or buy a home, so they can live and raise a family in the community they choose. And, as this article from Pacific Standard illustrates, creating housing stability is one of the surest paths to a middle class life.
So what makes an apartment, or a home, affordable? By federal definition, the costs associated with your housing — rent, mortgage, insurance, taxes — will be affordable if they are less than 30% of your annual income. In Vermont, nearly 48% of renters are paying more than that, and are considered to be “cost burdened.” And just under 50% of those folks are paying over 50% of their income for housing, and are considered “severely cost burdened.” For owners, our information shows that 33% are cost burdened, and just over a third of those are severely cost burdened. Read more
March 4, 2016
The Vermont Senate garnered headlines at the end of February by passing a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Urged on by Governor Shumlin, past opponents of legalization gathered forces, held copious amounts of testimony (by their account, over 100 hours), and joined with the sponsors of the bill to pass legislation that is a starting point for conversation in the House of Representatives. Opponents of legalization will refer to it as the start down a slippery slope, and supporters of legalization will refer to it as an imperfect start toward a sensible policy and industry.
I’ll come clean at the very beginning of this essay: I support the legalization of cannabis. The parameters of that support are, for me, very strict. I want to see a hearty control system, where we do not wink and nod and basically self police based on a threat of intermittent enforcement. I want to know our banking system will be able to legally process transactions related to the growth, distribution, sale and taxation of the product. I want beefed up services for those who suffer from addiction — not just for marijuana or other cannabis products, but for all of the other controlled substances that are legal as well. Finally, I want our potential legislation to have encompassed a thoughtful conversation about the role of government in acknowledging that the product exists, how it can be detrimental to one’s health, how it can be enjoyed responsibly, and what our responsibility is in making the sale and usage legal, or keeping sales underground and the usage illegal.
Because all forms of cannabis have been prohibited since the 1930s (and then, after the prohibition was ruled unconstitutional, placed under the newer “Schedule 1” and kept there by President Nixon, against the recommendation of his own study commission), its use has been demonized. Even hemp, which contains a minimal amount of THC, the active component in cannabis sativa, was prohibited for growth and use in the United States. Without knowing the details of the political reasons for this prohibition — mainly racism and preferred manufacturing that didn’t include hemp — keeping marijuana far out of the mainstream has led to other policies, all related to punitive measures, that have shaped our society in what can be perceived a negative way.
As we move forward with the discussion of legalization over the next several years, we will need to find and study credible information that can be analyzed in context. This is a way of saying that we need to learn to temporarily discard the personal and emotional elements of the discussion and try to learn from the best sources, mutually agreed upon, in order to move the conversation into an area where we can create a body of law that is, without contradiction, visionary and conservative. Read more
March 3, 2016
Town Meeting Day has come and gone, and for the most part they went smoothly. We spent the bulk of the day in Huntington, and Monday evening in Bolton. We were only able to spend time prior to the meeting in Waterbury this year. We are grateful for the time we spend at each meeting, and with being able to have relaxed conversations before and after. Please enjoy reading our Town Meeting Report, and don’t hesitate to call with questions!