How many vacancies are there in Vermont?

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – It’s hard to say how many vacant or abandoned homes exist in Vermont, but with the housing crisis, those in the state are hoping the number isn’t too high.

In a March article, the New York Times claimed Vermont had the highest number of vacant properties nationally, but local organizations say the data may not paint an accurate picture.

“The only reason to abandon a property is the lack of ability to reinvest in it,” said Shaun Gilpin, of the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development.

Gilpin says the state doesn’t have an unreasonable number of vacant housing units, but they hope to prevent any disarray with Vermont’s housing improvement program.

VHIP is included in a law project passed by the Senate, pending Governor Scott’s signature.

“Often homeowners, especially low-income homeowners themselves, weren’t able to invest in these units,” Gilpin continued.

According to the latest census data, 19% of the housing stock is considered vacant. Mia Watson of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency says the only state with more is Maine.

“In Vermont, the largest share of vacant homes are seasonal homes or vacation homes and that’s over 75% of the vacant homes we have in Vermont,” Watson explained.

But “vacant properties” does not include properties that have been abandoned altogether. Watson says these are much harder to count.

The latest census indicates that Vermont has 11,355 homes that fall into an “other vacant dwellings” category. This is where abandoned houses would be counted, but this number also includes houses under construction and properties that are unoccupied for personal reasons.

“When you have few houses to rent or sell, it really drives up rents and prices. That’s why we’ve seen an out-of-control market for tenants over the past few years,” Watson explained after sharing that the most recently calculated vacancy rate in Chittenden County is around 1%.

Watson says a healthy market would have a vacancy rate of 4-8%.

The VHIP gives homeowners grants of $30,000 to $50,000 to bring new units back online. This money will be used to bring the buildings up to standard.

“We need to do a better job as a state of making sure that the rules for habitability on the books are actually enforced,” Gilpin said.

This, in turn, will create a larger housing stock and hopefully bring rents under control.

“Right now you have a landlord who can’t rent anything, a tenant who has nowhere to go, and he’s a loser all around,” Gilpin said of situations where landlords who have no no funds for essential repairs.

Legislation including VHIP has yet to be signed.

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