With Help from the REALTOR® Party, Northwest Vermont REALTOR® Association Promotes Reforms to the Dated Land Use Policy Stifling Housing Production

With Help from the REALTOR® Party, Northwest Vermont REALTOR® Association Promotes Reforms to the Dated Land Use Policy Stifling Housing Production

June 2024

Heavily forested and known for its bucolic agricultural economy, the state of Vermont has the word ‘green’ right in its name.  But while its landscape is an environmentalist’s dream, its housing stock is another matter – among the oldest in the country and in very short supply, while the state’s prevailing land use legislation, dating from the 1970s, severely restricts new development.  To catalyze a shift in the dated regulation, the Northwest Vermont REALTOR® Association (NVRA) conducted polling to assess voter understanding of its impact on the state’s severe housing challenges and used the resulting data to inform a robust consumer advocacy campaign.  REALTOR® Party programs helped make both efforts possible.

NVRA CEO Troi Bachmann explains that Act 250, which has governed Vermont’s land use for the past half-century, has been holding developers to a strict 10-5-5 limit:  no more than ten new units within five miles of other new construction every five years.  Exemptions are only permitted by a governmental review board, adding time and expense to the process, and anyone in the state can submit an appeal to stall the proceedings.  “Environmental protection has always been a priority of these rules, and that’s admirable,” says Bachmann, “but the state’s current lack of housing is acute.  The rental vacancy rate in Burlington is just 1%, and the average home price in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties is in the $500K range.  Vermont has an aging population and a dwindling workforce, and there’s very little available for the next generation, or for newcomers to the state.”

The severity of the housing crisis prompted NVRA to investigate housing preferences and perceptions among voters in its jurisdiction, and particularly how well they understood how Act 250 relates to current housing availability and accessibility.  “Thanks to the REALTOR® Party’s State and Local Growth Polling program, we were able to gauge how aware people are that these rules affect what you’d want to build; that, in turn, told us how much we would have to explain in an advocacy campaign,” reports Bachmann, noting that the polling did, in fact, reveal a significant disconnect in voter understanding.

“With this polling insight in hand, our board of directors and Government Affairs Committee were determined to act on it,” she says.  Using a Consumer Advocacy Outreach Grant, also from the REALTOR® Party, NVRA launched a month-long direct-to-consumer education campaign it called “Unlock Housing Affordability Options for a Thriving Environment,” featuring a dedicated website, printed mailers, text messaging, and digital ads on social media and news outlets.  Its goal was to convey that Northwest Vermont needs more housing options; that effective solutions could include revision of Act 250’s 10-5-5 rule, infill development, and adaptive reuse; and that REALTORS® are committed to policies that support homeownership and housing options for all.

The campaign also emphasized that building affordable housing will bolster local economies, and that smart and sustainable growth will prevent uncontrolled sprawl into the state’s cherished green spaces.

The effort stimulated member engagement and increased awareness of the issues among the public and, notably, among legislators, who are now on the receiving end of more direct advocacy from NVRA.  “The coalition working for housing policy reforms is moving the needle in a positive direction,” says Bachmann, who is pleased to report that some interim exemptions have now been made within Act 250.  “The Consumer Advocacy tool is a great way to engage with people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach, in our effort to create a more housing-friendly regulatory environment.  Paired with the insights we gained from the polling program, it’s a powerful force!”

To learn more about how the Northwest Vermont Association of REALTORS® is working to increase affordable and accessible housing, contact CEO Troi Bachmann at troi@nwvtrealtor.org or 802.862.6407.


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