The U.S. Does Not Have a Housing Crisis
We have a different kind of crisis — one that’s much simpler to solve.
I recently moved to Burlington, Vermont — this state’s biggest city, population: a whopping 42,000 people. Like so many places across the United States, Burlington has found itself in the throes of a serious so-called “housing crisis.” Having spent much of my adult life in places like New York, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, I am no stranger to skyrocketing rents, rapid gentrification and extreme shortages of affordable housing. Still, you’d think in a place like Vermont, whose total statewide population is less than a quarter of Brooklyn, New York’s, the situation wouldn’t be so dire.
By the numbers, it is dire. The average renter in Burlington spends 40% of their income on rent alone. Real estate prices have skyrocketed over the past few years, especially in the wake of the pandemic, in-step with our nationwide pattern of limited real estate selling fast for well above already high (and rising) listing prices. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Vermont has only 43 available and affordable homes for every 100 extremely low-income households.
Vermont is by no means the worst state for housing— far from it — but even in this quiet corner of the rural Northeast, the housing market squeeze has everyone by the neck.
And yet, this is absolutely and unequivocally not a housing crisis.
Let’s break it down:
There are approximately 330,000 housing units in Vermont. Of these, slightly over half (56%) are owner-occupied. The rate of new homes being built in Vermont had been slowing long before pandemic-related supply chain disruptions drove up the cost of building materials and led to rising land prices nationwide. Like many other states, Vermont has a rising homeless population, which jumped by 7% in early 2022 to 2,780 people staying in shelters or on the street on a given night.
On the flip side, the percentage of homes turned into short-term vacation rentals (think AirBnB and Vrbo) rose to 2.5% in 2020, or about 8,200 homes statewide. An additional 16% of Vermont’s housing stock — over 50,000 homes — are only used seasonally.