The latest solution to Vermont’s housing crisis? Paying landlords to rent to people.

Allard Square in South Burlington offers a mix of affordable and market rental housing. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Ciara McEneany is a reporter with the Community News Service, part of the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.

Officials hope a new state fund can encourage landlords to rent to people who might otherwise lack housing.

The Vermont State Housing Authority launched the Landlord Relief Program last week with help from the State Department for Children and Families. Landlords who apply can receive financing — up to $10,000 per unit — to hold units for up to two months while working with vendors offering housing vouchers. Recipients can also use the funds for any necessary work to bring the units up to health and safety regulations.

The program grew out of an investigation by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency into the feasibility of a statewide fund to ensure landlords are supported while encouraging them to increase the number of rental units in the state, according to Lily Sojourner, program manager for community services Office for Economic Opportunities of the Office for Children and Families.

“We had a few focus groups with landlords and housing providers to see what their main costs were, what they needed, and what successful elements of similar programs in other states looked like,” Sojourner said. “That’s why we’ve been really working over the last six months to develop the necessary policies and procedures while also sharing information with stakeholders.”

In the application process, it is checked how affordable the apartments of a landlord are or would be.

“There is no income criteria for those who apply, but there is an affordability criterion,” said Tyler Maas, program director at the Vermont State Housing Authority. “Therefore, the device has to be affordable. The rent must be a gross rent – ​​a combination of the contract rent plus the utility fee – and must be affordable at 80% of the area’s median income, which is 30% of one’s salary.”

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Potential renters do not need to be screened for income level as their eligibility is based on already benefiting from a government subsidy program.

The program aims to address the state’s shortfall in rental housing, particularly for those who have higher housing needs, said Tom Donahue, CEO of BROC Community Action, a social services agency that serves Bennington and Rutland.

“There is no income verification – it is based on the tenant already receiving a rental subsidy or grant in a program. So it will increase the number of units that are now being made available and made available to this group of Vermonters who often struggle to find a landlord willing to rent to them,” Donahue said.

By providing landlords with a financial safety net, Sojourner says, the program mitigates real or perceived risks in renting to prospective tenants who are on housing benefits or are homeless.

“We believe this program lets the landlord know that we are listening to them and their concerns. We want them to go into these relationships positively and to feel like they can build a strong relationship with a tenant,” Sojourner said. “Most of the time it’s a successful tenancy, but when something does happen we’re here to support landlords and relieve a little bit of that pressure and burden.”

Donahue believes the program will help alleviate Vermont’s housing crisis and provide a stable environment for homeseekers.

“This program is one of the possible responses to convert homeless people into a more sustainable, permanent home rather than a motel room, which is the version we’re seeing now,” Donahue said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of substandard housing out there. And people are currently living in substandard conditions that we cannot condone.”

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