Business & Economics Property Rights

Green lobby targets Act 250 housing loophole

The Senate Natural Resources Committee will continue to review S.234, the Act 250 reform bill, all week this week. Last week, it reviewed the bill’s impacts on the state’s housing shortage, the Campaign for Vermont reports.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council voiced concern about forest fragmentation due to subdivisions of housing. Between 2003 and 2009 found that out of 925 subdivisions creating 2,749 lots and affecting a total of 70,827 acres, only 10% were reviewed under Act 250.

VNRC believes the level of review was so low because Act 250 is only triggered at six or more lots and the majority of subdivisions were in the 2-3 lot range. They also believe that the exemptions contemplated in the bill go too far and remove neighbors from the process.

Also, the Natural Resources Board shared that two-thirds of the 65 Act 250 permits in front of them right now are multi-unit housing.

Discussion emerged around creating senior housing so that retirees could downsize to something more affordable and free up single-family housing stock for young families to purchase (which is currently where most of the pain is in the housing market).

At present, folks who want to downsize but remain close to or in the community (maintain existing relationships, businesses, etc.) cannot do so without the mixed use/income lower income housing units available.

Legislative counsel shared a useful flow chart of how the bill is proposing to direct permitting applications for priority housing projects. These projects would be exempt from Act 250 review.

The Committee identified a possible issue in the definition of affordable housing in current law where income qualifications cap access at 120% of average area income. Because of upward pressure on housing markets, it could possibly create a “reverse cliff” whereby middle-income families no longer qualify for affordable housing.

Guy Page

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