Jeff Potter/Commons file photo

Support charter change to protect tenants and prevent homelessness

Unjust evictions are major disruptions in people’s lives and an enormous strain on their mental well-being and on our public services

BRATTLEBORO — Nationally, tenants saw a 17.2% increase in their average rents in 2021 alone. In Brattleboro and beyond, out-of-state corporate landlords are kicking out existing tenants who pay their rent and follow the rules in order to jack up the rent for the tenants who follow.

As I biked across Vermont as part of my U.S. Senate campaign this past summer, I heard this same story in Barre, in Burlington, and then back home again in Brattleboro.

“To prevent evictions,” the Biden White House wrote last month, “renters should have access to just- or good-cause eviction protections that require a justified cause to evict a tenant.”

I agree. We should follow the White House guidance and vote yes on Article II to amend the Brattleboro town charter in the election on Tuesday, March 7.

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The proposed charter change states, “A landlord shall not evict a tenant for the sole purpose of raising the rent.” If a tenant is in violation of the contract - by creating a nuisance to the neighbors, for example - that would still be grounds for eviction.

Unjust evictions, however, are major disruptions in people's lives and can contribute to homelessness. From 2007 to 2021, homelessness increased in Vermont by 259%. This month, data came out that Vermont has the second-highest homelessness rate in the United States, following only California's.

With an extremely low availability of rental units in Brattleboro (0.5–2.8%), when tenants are evicted, they often are forced to move out of state, or, in many cases, become unhoused. This includes tenants who pay their rents, look after their homes, and are part of their communities. Evictions place enormous strain on people's mental well-being and on our public services.

Recent local news coverage has described challenges unsheltered individuals in Brattleboro face. I do not want anyone in our town to die from hypothermia. This is why I echoed Brattleboro Selectboard Member Jessica Gelter's request last month that shelter for our unsheltered neighbors be placed on the next meeting's agenda.

We have learned about some very large obstacles to providing shelter. Creating tenant protections from abusive landlords is one thing we can do - one thing to help prevent homelessness in the first place.

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To be clear, many local housing providers are deeply caring individuals, invested in our community, and go above and beyond to treat their tenants well.

Meanwhile, the pandemic, bureaucratic systems, and social problems have created real headaches for many of these landlords. Understandably, many local landlords worry about the impact of the proposed charter change. Moving eviction cases through the courts already takes too long and can be costly.

But tenants should not have to sacrifice their rights due to a backed-up court system. Nor should landlords.

If the proposed charter amendment passes, the court system could see a dramatic reduction in eviction cases: According to Vermont Legal Aid, no-cause evictions account for 50% of evictions that go to court. The charter change would potentially remove the backlog from these spurious eviction cases and expedite cases that are for legitimate reasons.

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Ultimately, low- and middle-income Vermonters need housing they can afford. This will require capital investment. We need to make sure the federal government fully funds the Section 8 housing vouchers program to adequately subsidize housing for people who need the help.

Our governments need to fund supportive services for people in our towns who are most vulnerable, including people with disabilities and health challenges. And we need to offer tenants legal support.

We also need to look at what we can do now to help protect tenants against outrageous rent hikes and unjust evictions.

We need a tenant-focused approach that creates affordable housing, provides safe and stable housing to the unhoused and - finally - protects Vermonters from evictions without cause.

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