Homelessness & Housing

A brick motel with greenery out front and blue sky in the background
Elodie Reed / VPR

Social service organizations and public safety officials are raising dire concerns about what will happen to low-income Vermonters when the Scott administration winds down an emergency housing program that’s provided motel rooms for thousands of vulnerable residents over the course of the pandemic.

Mehran Mossaddad has spent much of the pandemic scared and lying awake at night. He's a single dad with an 10-year-old daughter living outside Atlanta.

"I get panic attacks not knowing what's in store for us," he says. "I have to take care of her."

Mossaddad drives Uber for a living, but when the pandemic hit, he stopped because he couldn't leave his daughter home alone. As a result, he has fallen more than $15,000 behind on his rent, and his landlord has filed an eviction case against him.

Katrina Chism was frightened and confused. She'd been renting the same house in Atlanta for three years. She's a single mom with a teenage son. But then she lost her customer service job during the coronavirus pandemic and fell a month behind on her rent.

"I remember going to the door and the sheriff standing there," Chism says. "It scared me because I didn't know why he was at my house."

The reason: Her landlord had filed an eviction case against her.

A person in a white sweater holding their arms up to their head, leaning against a wooden structure with trees and sky in the background
Elodie Reed / VPR

In the past year, student activists have been hard at work to make change in their communities. Among them: 16-year-old Minelle Sarfo-Adu.

A person in t-shirt draws a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

More than 300,000 Vermonters are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state has one of the highest rates in the country, with nearly 77% of eligible residents having received at least one dose. But getting a vaccine is not an easy take for everyone.

Carlette Duffy's tidy, three-bedroom home is in a historic Black neighborhood in Indianapolis. It has been completely renovated and sits across the street from a park and lush greenspace. She bought it four years ago for $100,000.

"My house is my forever home," Duffy said. "I love my neighborhood. I love my home."

With a hot housing market and low interest rates, Duffy wanted to refinance her mortgage to help fix up her late grandmother's home right around the corner.

The price of lumber has more than doubled over the past year, and economists warn that things might stay this way for a while. That's why people like Hans Dow are getting crafty.

"I was like, well, I want a sawmill. I can make a lot of stuff with it. I also need to learn how to weld ...," Dow says as he hefts a 9-foot log onto the deck of his hand-built sawmill. It sits in the corner of his South Anchorage, Alaska, backyard.

A red "for rent" sign against a blue sky.
mphillips007 / iStock

It’s been a tough year for thousands of Vermont tenants. Many renters lost income due to the pandemic. Unpaid bills and missing rent payments have piled up and when the state and federal eviction moratoriums end, thousands could be at risk of losing their apartment.

That’s why Congress allocated billions of dollars to programs to help tenants pay back-rent. In Vermont, a new rental assistance program launched in early April could be a lifeline for struggling residents.

A rental assistance program launched last month could help thousands of struggling tenants. Plus, the potential for COVID restrictions to ease sooner, school-based vaccine clinics, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Biden administration is preparing to release $5 billion in new housing vouchers, approved in the latest COVID relief bill. The goal is to help 70,000 low-income families at risk of homelessness due to the pandemic.

But, even in the best of times, it can be hard to use such vouchers, which allow recipients to pay one-third of their income on rent, with the government covering the rest. Many landlords won't accept them and the vouchers are often hard to come by. Some families have to wait years to get one.

A federal judge has issued a sweeping ruling that would revoke a pandemic eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the Justice Department is appealing on behalf of the CDC.

The case was brought by the Alabama Association of Realtors, which argued that the CDC doesn't have the power to tell landlords they can't evict people during a pandemic. The judge agreed.

The state’s plan to stop providing hotel and motel rooms to unhoused Vermonters. Plus, hopeful trends in COVID-19 numbers, the search-for-work mandate is back, and a ban on the LGBTQ+ panic defense.

Hilltop Inn sign on the side of a road.
Emily Aiken / VPR

Last week, the CDC and FDA called for a pause in the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, at least until this Friday. The news came after six people reported severe blood clots after receiving the vaccine. The pause has left many Vermonters in limbo — especially those who are experiencing homelessness and are relying on this particular vaccine for its accessibility. 

It was a pretty brutal holiday season for Barbara Gaught in Billings, Montana. Back in December, just a week before Christmas, she got an eviction notice.

"It was at like six thirty at night that a sheriff came and taped a notice on the door," she says. "On a Friday night."

In his $2 trillion plan to improve America's infrastructure, President Biden is promising to address the racism ingrained in historical transportation and urban planning.

Biden's plan includes $20 billion for a program that would "reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments," according to the White House. It also looks to target "40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities."

Millions of people are at risk of losing electricity in the coming weeks because of unpaid power bills, even as Congress has authorized billions of dollars in supplemental relief.

Overdue power bills have mushroomed during the pandemic as job losses mounted and residential power consumption soared.

Many states restrict power shutoffs during the winter. But with those safeguards expiring in more than a dozen states this month, the threat of widespread power interruption is growing.

Paper house model cover by a mask isolated on blue background stock photo.
fongfong2 / iStock

If you've been trying to buy a home in Vermont recently, you may have already learned this the hard way: it’s not an easy process during the pandemic.

The nation's homeless population grew last year for the fourth year in a row. On a single night in January 2020, there were more than 580,000 individuals who were homeless in the United States, a 2% increase from the year before.

The numbers, released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development Thursday, do not reflect the impact of the pandemic.

Nearly 10 million Americans are behind on their rent payments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And Stephanie Graves is seeing that play out first hand. She's a landlord in the Houston area and says tenants in most of her buildings are struggling.

"I have a small property in town," she says. "It's about 22 units and eight residents have not been able to pay over 6 months on and off." She says she might get a $100 partial payment on a $1,000 rent.

A man in a red shirt and grey hoodie
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

For the past year, the state of Vermont has used federal COVID relief money to give everyone who was experiencing homelessness a private room, in motels and hotels across the state. So what will happen to those 2,000 or so people when the pandemic ends?