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Scott Administration Extends Emergency Motel Housing Program For 30 Days

A photo of a brick motel with greenery out front and blue sky in the background
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
More than 500 Vermont households currently living in motels under an emergency pandemic program were set to lose their housing on Thursday, Sept. 23. Now, they will get a 30-day extension.

More than 500 Vermont households that were set to lose state-subsidized motel housing on Thursday have gotten an unexpected reprieve.

Gov. Phil Scott announced during his weekly press briefing Tuesday that he’ll grant a 30-day extension for the general assistance emergency housing program.

Scott said his administration negotiated the Sept. 23 end date for the program with lawmakers and advocates months ago.

“When the Legislature approved the administration’s plan to offer benefits for only 84 days, circumstances were really different. We believed that the pandemic was getting under control here in Vermont ... "
Mairead O’Reilly, Vermont Legal Aid

But he said he opted to extend that deadline after Democratic lawmakers and advocates for the unhoused voiced concerns about the looming motel evictions.

“We thought we were all on the same page, we all had the same goal, but that seems to be fracturing as we get closer to the date," Scott said Tuesday. "So I thought it was a good idea to just pause this for 30 days."

The decision to extend the program follows a press conference on Monday in which several organizations called on the governor to extend the emergency housing program.

More from VPR: For Emergency Housing, State Seeks Alternatives To Motel Voucher Program

Mairead O’Reilly, with Vermont Legal Aid, said the original end date for the program didn’t anticipate that Vermont would be in the midst of a delta-fueled COVID surge.

“When the Legislature approved the administration’s plan to offer benefits for only 84 days, circumstances were really different,” O’Reilly said. “We believed that the pandemic was getting under control here in Vermont … and that people experiencing homelessness would be able to secure housing because of the unprecedented investment Vermont has recently made into permanent affordable housing and shelter.”

O’Reilly said current COVID case counts in Vermont make congregate shelters unsafe for many people experiencing homelessness, especially those with underlying health conditions.

And she said lack of shelters and affordable housing mean many of the 541 households scheduled for eviction Thursday would likely end up in unsafe living conditions.

“I personally am deeply concerned about sticking to a plan that is likely to put a large number of people essentially back on the streets, because we know there is no housing available."
Montpelier Rep. Mary Hooper

Lawmakers expressed similar reservations about the end of the program at a legislative hearing Friday.

“I personally am deeply concerned about sticking to a plan that is likely to put a large number of people essentially back on the streets, because we know there is no housing available,” said Montpelier Rep. Mary Hooper.

Sean Brown, Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, told Hooper that the state couldn’t extend the program even if it wanted to, because lodging establishments wanted to free up capacity for foliage season.

Brown said Monday that the state has since discovered “creative” solutions to those capacity issues.

“We’ll be working with our community partners, our housing partners, to make sure that if we have someone needing housing in an area where we have no capacity, that we’re able to assist them accessing that motel capacity,” Brown said.

More from VPR: 'No Place To Go': As State Of Emergency Ends, So Does Stable Housing For Some Vermonters

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate applauded Scott’s announcement Tuesday.

“I thank the governor and his staff for making the important decision to extend the deadline for housing assistance and to give the Department for Children and Families and our community partners more time to identify housing solutions for those in need,” House Speaker Jill Krowinski said in a written statement.

“I think everyone would agree, or most everyone would agree … that this can’t go on in in perpetuity."
Gov. Phil Scott

Scott made clear Tuesday, however, that motels are not a viable long-term solution for people without housing.

“I think everyone would agree, or most everyone would agree … that this can’t go on in in perpetuity,” he said. “We need to get on the same page. We need to agree on the goal again and a path forward.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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