The Vermont Housing Crisis – Nowhere To Go

With the prospect of housing after high school only a few months away, Vermont proposes a new set of challenges for students. Many students and citizens are being affected by the housing markets of many states—Vermont’s market specifically has taken a sizable blow as many out-of-state residents purchase second homes or move to the state of Vermont. Real estate brokers and landlords place a good share of the blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, which inspired scores of newcomers to seek the relative safety of Vermont. Many native Vermonters are struggling to find housing in their hometowns and neighboring towns. This is especially affecting students and their ability to find housing in their hometowns or any towns at all.

The prices of goods and housing in the United States have climbed dramatically over the past 10 years, but the minimum wage in the U.S. has remained at $7.25. Many people aren’t aware that, currently, the minimum wage isn’t sufficient to rent a house anywhere in the U.S. To afford a one-bedroom apartment, a Vermonter making $11.75, the state minimum wage, would have to work 64 hours a week to spend 30% of that income on their apartment. For a two-bedroom apartment, it jumps to 81 hours a week, according to a recent Vermont housing study. The rental vacancy rate in Vermont is now at 3.4%, while the rate is around 2% in Chittenden County. A healthy vacancy rate should be around 5%, according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA). This means that Vermont needs around 4,000 new rental properties to meet that “healthy” percentage.

Someone who knows these unfortunate truths better than anyone is Eve Berinati, a new English teacher at Harwood Union High School. “Lots of teachers were affected,” she said. “If you didn’t have some sort of connection, you basically couldn’t find anything.” 

Berinati is a traveler. She lived and worked in Europe for the past four of five years and has the spirit of adventure. She always finds herself returning to Vermont but, after experiencing difficulty in finding housing for the new job, she hopes to find a home more easily in the future. She spoke about many scams and predatory things she had witnessed on Craigslist and other websites regarding property, places that didn’t exist, having to pay to look at a property and other ludicrous things to get vulnerable people to give up hard-earned cash. Because of this struggle, she thought about possibly living in other people’s basements, having lots of roommates, a tiny house, and even a van. Luckily, a teacher who was leaving Harwood High School happened to be selling their home and Berinati got the chance to make a deal. She is now living at that same house and working as a Global Studies teacher at Harwood. 

Berinati knows how this will affect students after high school. Most students won’t be able to afford housing in Vermont, especially if they’re paying off student loans or aren’t making enough money to pay for an apartment or house. “People from out-of-state tend to have second houses in Vermont, which makes an issue anyways,” she said. “I myself have considered short-term rentals and turning them into long-term, things like Airbnb. Maybe money could be used to build subsidies. The economy depends on people wanting or being able to live here. Lots of places are understaffed due to a lack of places to live, so some just live with lots of roommates to make do.” 

“We need to find a new way to share space and time,” Berinati said.