The last two weeks of the 2023 legislative session are here. For me, that means a lot of time in the State House — some of it frantically working and trying to figure things out, and some of it sitting around for hours, bored and snacking, waiting for a bill to move or an amendment to be written, and then getting whirled up in the chaos again.
This week I’m going to touch on the housing bill, also known as S.100, also known as the HOMES bill. (HOMES stands for Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone. This acronym seems like a bit of shoving a chubby baby into some tiny pajamas, but it works.)
This bill is an excellent example of how a bill can change significantly as it moves through the legislative process. Introduced in the Senate early in the session, it looked very different then than it does now. As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the bill worked its way out of the Senate and is now in its third committee in the House. It’s listed on the current House calendar at tinyurl.com/4tdn9j3b. You can always log on to the Vermont General Assembly web site and search for a bill to find out where it is at the moment.
This is a good time to give a little lesson about reading a bill. If you’re looking at the text of a bill and there’s just regular type, that’s statute (law) that already exists. If you’re reading a bill and the text is underlined, that’s new text — in essence, the stuff that’s going to be added to the bill. If you’re reading text and there’s a strike through like this, that’s text that was either old law that’s being removed, or new language that used to be part of the bill but is now being removed.
As far as S.100 is concerned, I know there has been talk that this bill is going to remove the ability of local voters to decide on their town’s land-use regulations. This is not part of this bill; if it was, it’s gone now. The municipal parts in general don’t affect Charlotte too much, since most of the zoning changes apply to towns that have municipal water and sewer, which we don’t have.
Keep in mind that this could change later today or at any point before the end of the session. One difference that will apply to all towns, including Charlotte, is that a duplex will be allowed from a zoning standpoint in any place where a single-family home would be.
This doesn’t mean you can put a duplex with eight bedrooms on a place where you could build a four-bedroom house. It means the zoning rules would all still apply, but that the structure could be divided into two separate residences. So, if you were allowed to build a four-bedroom home in a spot, this would allow you to build a duplex with two two-bedroom units. The dimensions allowed would remain the same.
S.100 also removes the 10-person requirement for an aggrieved person to petition against a municipality and allows a single person to do so. However, the law adds that “a particularized interest shall not include the character of the area affected if the project has a residential component that includes affordable housing.”
The “character” complaint can be perceived as a sort of secret code for discriminating against people based on socio-economic, racial or other reasons; specifically stating that it’s not a reason to appeal the approval of affordable housing and removes one of the roadblocks toward achieving more diverse housing in villages.
As it stands, I feel like the good outweighs the unknowns in this bill; I support it as it currently stands, but of course there are a couple more committees it’s going to go through, who knows how many amendments, plus a vote in the House and then to the governor. I’ve been assuring folks who reached out over text, email and phone that I’m definitely not in the business of restricting voters’ right to weigh in on important matters, and I’m not in favor of any bill that would give too much power to one municipal board or committee. This bill doesn’t do that, so I’m good with it.
As always: email or call 917-887-8231.