Recently, affordable housing providers, homeless families, advocates, and policy makers gathered at the Vermont State House to provide testimony to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs on the status of the state’s COVID-19 recovery efforts in housing the hundreds of families living in motels and hotels and efforts of Vermont State Housing Authority in deploying Emergency Rental Assistance.

The discussion portrayed VERAP “as an unstable program.” The next morning, Vt Digger published an article describing VERAP as a program, “plagued with problems and delays.”

While VERAP has struggled at times to keep up with the volume of applications, largely due to Vermont’s limited workforce and technology barriers, we are meeting the needs of thousands of Vermonters while maintaining the integrity and compliance of a very prescriptive program, set forth by the US Treasury.

I have deep respect for the advocacy voice; however, I disagree with the recent characterization of the program and the VERAP Team’s work in implementing and administering VERAP.

Since July 2020, Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA) has deployed more than $56 million in rental assistance reaching over 12,000 unique households, with an estimated $34 million in future benefits to be paid. Additionally, through the Stipulation process, VSHA emergency rental assistance programs paid out over $1 million to settle 146 eviction cases.

VERAP has been taking applications since April 5, 2021, making payments for rent arrears, future rent and moving costs (Money to Move). Additionally, VERAP has implemented new initiatives including Other Expenses Related to Housing, which can help owners pay for necessary repairs to keep their units safe and even bring new units online – a vital need highlighted by the COVID 19 pandemic. We have also continued our Payment of Court Costs program to help landlords cover filing and legal fees to eliminate the need for landlords to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent.

In comparison to other states, Vermont ranks in the top 10 when looking at scheduled and obligated payments for enrolled VERAP participants. For this and our work on application integrity, the National Coalition of State Housing Agencies has continually referred other states to our Program and program administrators for guidance.

In just over six months VERAP has assisted more Vermonters with more rental assistance than any program in the history of our state. And every day our team and our community partners around the state work together to make it the best program possible and to continue meeting the need of those who need it most.

Kathleen Berk is the executive director of the Vermont State Housing Authority, administrator of Vermont’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP).

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