April 7, 2016

I am pleased to report that a bill designed to increase housing opportunities for the Vermont workforce is progressing very well in the House of Representatives.  In fact, it is expected to come up for action this week on the House floor.

The bill, H. 865, does two things.  First, it would put into place pilot projects that would help fund infrastructure improvements in municipalities to support the development of workforce housing.  And, second, it would extend the very successful First Time Homebuyer Down Payment Assistance Program to ensure it becomes the revolving loan fund that we envisioned when we began the program last year.


It has become abundantly clear that we will not be able to grow our economy or address our demographic challenges in Vermont without ensuring that we have housing options that Vermonters can afford.  Employer after employer has indicated that one of the challenges to finding workforce is the cost of housing in Vermont.  And, those who develop housing have been clear that there are three reasons why this kind of workforce housing is not being developed:  the cost of land, regulatory hurdles, and the cost of infrastructure.

Toward that end, Rep. Fred Baser of Bristol began working on the idea of helping to fund – without putting any further strains on our current fiscal picture – infrastructure improvements that would put communities in a position to welcome and encourage the development of housing options for working Vermonters.

H. 865 also includes the content of the bill I introduced at the beginning of this session, to extend the First Time Homebuyer Down Payment Assistance (DPA) Program for an additional 4 years. 

Run through the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, the DPA Program - from just August 24, 2-15 thru the end of 2015 - helped 60 first time homebuyers into their first homes, in ten of our fourteen counties.  Even more compelling, the average age of the recipients was 31 years old, and their average income was $61,000.

This extension will ensure that the small, short-term annual investment now pays for the long-term sustainability of the program in the future in the form of a revolving loan fund.

This good news on H. 865, however, does not hide the disappointing – purely political – development on the Independent Contractor bill, on which my committee worked so diligently for so long.

Along with colleagues from across the political spectrum, I have fought diligently throughout the years to do something that would ensure the many protections for workers historically in place are maintained, while ensuring that we position our state as a place in which the new, independent and collaborative workforce is encouraged to grow and invest.

The bill that was voted out of our committee, H. 867, does just that. 

While the bill passed out of our committee on a unanimous vote (6 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 1 Independent), and has support from legislators from across the political spectrum – from very liberal to very conservative – the big labor community (labor unions) is opposed to the bill and they escalated their opposition once the bill was voted out.

As a result of that opposition, the Speaker of the House recommitted the bill to our Committee, saying that it was not our best work, and made clear that the only way it was going to progress was if changes were made to the bill.

As my committee colleague, Rep. Corey Parent, said to the Speaker, when you have the kind of alliance and agreement that we have on the bill – with liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, and so many in between – you are at the 50-yard line with regard to compromise and common ground. Clearly others want to move us to the 20-yard line.