Montpelier, Vt. – At his weekly press conference today, Governor Phil Scott reiterated his call for the legislature to prioritize regulatory reform to make it easier, less expensive, and faster to build the housing we desperately need.
“On January 10, I stood here with a tripartisan group of lawmakers and stakeholders to outline good, solid proposals that had wide support, and I felt good about the odds of passing something meaningful. But one month into the session, I’m not as confident as I was that day,” said Governor Scott. “It appears, in some committees, they’re moving in the opposite direction. Instead of prioritizing how to produce more homes, which would address all kinds of issues like workforce, healthcare, property taxes, education and more, some are looking to add to the regulatory burden and put us further behind.”
The Governor concluded his remarks by reaffirming his belief that the vast majority of Vermonters, and most lawmakers in both parties, agree regulatory reform is needed to address our housing crisis. He called on them to make their voices heard.
A full transcript of the Governor’s remarks can be found below.
GOVERNOR SCOTT: Good afternoon and thanks for being here today.
We’re now over a month into the session, about a quarter of the way towards adjournment.
We had a good start with almost everyone in the building making it clear housing would be a top priority.
After spending historic amounts over the past few years and still seeing a lack of housing in every county there seems to be an understanding outside this building and I believe in it as well, that it’s time to focus on the regulatory side of the equation.
We need to make it less expensive, faster, and easier to build or renovate the housing we desperately need.
That way the investments we’ve made will go farther but more importantly incentivize the private sector, who actually build much more housing than State Government, to invest and build more.
On January 10th, I stood here with a tripartisan group of lawmakers and stakeholders to outline good, solid proposals that had wide support and I felt good about the odds of passing something meaningful.
But one month into the session, I’m not as confident as I was that day.
It appears, in some committees, they’re moving in the opposite direction.
Instead of prioritizing how to produce more homes, which would address all kinds of issues like workforce, healthcare, property taxes, education, and more, some are looking to add to the regulatory burden and put us further behind.
For example, House Energy and Environment is currently moving forward with a bill that in my opinion would be an economic disaster.
And Senate Natural’s S.213 looks similar, creating new definitions, significantly expanding requirements, and shifting responsibilities for certain types of land use regulation from Vermont municipalities to ANR that will put Vermonters in jeopardy of violating laws they don’t even know exist.
As proposed, H.687 would also dramatically expand Act 250 jurisdiction statewide.
While it does include some Act 250 exemptions, they’re narrow, stringent, and geographically limited, making nearly the entire state subject to Act 250.
As most of us know, we have a housing crisis in all of Vermont, not just in our cities.
Leaving rural Vermont out of our housing strategy is far from strategic, fair, or acceptable.
And to be clear, I’m not proposing we build on our mountaintops, develop forest land, or create sprawl.
Our housing package focuses on designated areas within rural communities.
To make my point, let me show you a couple of maps.
As you can see by the areas indicated in red, orange, and yellow, Act 250 would be automatically extended to over 90% of the state’s land area which would now be considered “critical resource areas.”
That means if you want to build a single-family home, or maybe even a garden shed, you’ll need to go through Act 250 which we know adds costs and time.
Under the House proposal, Act 250 jurisdiction would also be triggered if a proposed project was setback more than 500 feet from an existing road or was part of a subdivision with more than four units.
Put another way, as currently drafted, H.687 would render more than 90% of the state subject to automatic Act 250 jurisdiction.
For perspective, currently, less than 15% of the Vermont landscape falls under automatic Act 250 jurisdiction.
I think most Vermonters would find this new bill totally unacceptable and hamper, not help, solve our housing crisis.
As I said at the beginning of the session, the depth of the crisis we face demands bold action, but this “bold action” isn’t what I had in mind. And actually, moves us in the wrong direction.
So, I want to be clear, I won’t accept a housing bill that fails to meet the moment.
Taking one step forward and one step back won’t cut it.
Taking two steps forwards and one back won’t cut it.
We must jumpstart housing in all communities. Period.
That’s going to take all the creative approaches in H.719, including changes to Act 250, local zoning, appeals, and tax incentives for those who want to invest in communities.
Here’s the bottom line. We can’t water this package down and expect to address our housing shortage.
I’ve been around this building long enough to know how this works and that’s why I called it out in my State of the State and Budget Address.
We cannot let a couple special interests and a couple committees block the progress we need to make.
And I’m confident the vast majority of Vermonters agree with me.
But I also think most legislators of both parties do, too.
The folks back home elected you to solve problems, not create them.
Just because you’re not on the committee dealing directly with this issue doesn’t mean you can’t make your voice heard.
Because the reality is housing impacts many issues in other committees, from homelessness and healthcare to public safety and resiliency to education and workforce.
So, let’s make progress on housing that we so desperately need to help our communities.