Housing Heroes: The Rural Caucus Fights to Address the Housing Crisis

This is a reflection by Chamber President Betsy Bishop.

This week, the tri-partisan Rural Caucus of the House of Representatives emerged as true leaders on housing. Members of the Rural Caucus reaffirmed their commitment to addressing the statewide crisis, as they promised their constituents they would when they ran for election only six months ago. A letter to the Speaker of the House, Jill Krowinski, was signed by 33 legislators from the Rural Caucus supporting regulatory changes to create more housing for Vermonters. They did this even after House Leadership instructed members of the House General and Housing Committee to stop discussing or voting on an amendment that would have addressed these same concerns. With 23 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and 3 Independents, this coalition suggests real power.

Addressing the lack of available and affordable housing is a top priority for the Governor, legislators from all parties, businesses in all industries, and communities across the state. At the core of this debate is Act 250, and the barriers it creates to housing development across Vermont. Currently, the housing bill will only provide regulatory relief to 0.3% of the state. The Rural Caucus is asking for expanded exemptions, an important compromise with those opposed to any change at all.

So, why is it that an omnibus housing bill would only benefit 0.3% of the state with regulatory relief even being considered an acceptable outcome? The answer is politics. Leadership in the House and the Senate are siding with special interests, derailing votes on proposals to reforming land use law amendments.  

Wayward legislators can often face tactics that threaten committee assignments, campaign help, inclusion in private dinners and house parties, or being summoned to the Speaker’s office. However, with this many legislators, there is a new power base building. The question is, will they continue to fight for their constituents, or will they ultimately cave to the majority party pressure? We’ll find out when S.100 passes.