Why Exactly is the Rent Too D*** High?

A headline in VT Digger declares “Vermont wages well behind cost of rent, national study details.” First question: did we really need a study to tell us that? When politicians run on the issue of “affordability” at the top of the list of unaffordable items is housing. When companies say they have a hard time recruiting workers to come to Vermont, the obstacle usually at the top of the list is a lack of affordable housing for the potential employee.

We know this is a general problem. The study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition generates some specifics in that “Vermont’s full-time workers need to earn $23.68 an hour, or $49,258 annually, to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent,” and that number is higher in Chittenden/Franklin/Grand Isle Counties to the tune of $31.31 per hour.

But, as Ronald Reagan warned, government is not the solution, government is the problem. Here’s how your elected officials are making things worse:

  • They just passed a bill requiring all rental properties to register with the state, including ongoing fees for doing so. The idea is to add a layer of tighter regulation and inspection to the market for rental housing, so the state can enforce environmental mandates – upgrading weatherization, replacing fossil fuel based heating systems, installing EV chargers, etc. – which will cost landlords more to implement, passing on the costs to renters. (See who voted for this: House, Senate)
  • They just passed a bill requiring construction contractors to register with the state, including ongoing fees to do so. This bill would also make it illegal for your local handyman to do any job (labor and materials) over $2500 without a legal contract, as well as other costly mandates. This will discourage construction contractors from doing business in VT (where we already have a shortage), making the overall maintenance of rental units more expensive and difficult. (See who voted for this: House, Senate)
  • The Global Warming Solutions Act mandates greenhouse gas reduction targets, and housing is a major area of concern. Regulations and mandates coming out of this law regarding construction, zoning, etc. will certainly increase the cost of housing and discourage the building of more housing of any kind. (See who voted for this: House, Senate)
  • Property taxes. Vermont already has among the most expensive property tax burden in the country due to our having one of the most expensive per-pupil education costs in the country. Two initiatives passed this past session have the potential to explode Vermont’s property tax burden significantly more: recalibrating pupil weighting, and expanding government subsidized pre-k programs from birth to 5. Increased property tax costs will, of course, be passed along to renters.

So, then next time a politician laments on the campaign trail that the rent is too damn high, take a moment to see if their voting record is part of the solution, or part of the problem. 

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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  • Tom McLinden
    commented 2021-07-25 19:44:29 -0400
    Rob, You forgot my favorite, Act 250. This arcane regulation makes every building project into a complex game of chance where large sums of money are required just to find out if you will be granted the right to build on your own property. And even then endless appeals can stall a project for years or derail it completely when builders can no longer afford the legal costs and delays. I’ve heard builders say they would gladly put up affordable housing if they didn’t have to deal with act 250 in order to do so.
  • David Usher
    commented 2021-07-23 17:45:53 -0400
    Rob, keep up the good work identifying the laws, policies and regulations that cause Vermont to be yet more unaffordable. Please continue to name the culprits that perpetuate this assault on common sense.
  • David Usher
    followed this page 2021-07-23 17:37:14 -0400
  • Robert Roper
    published this page in EAI Blog 2021-07-21 13:41:10 -0400