Dealing with High Rental Costs in Brattleboro

I’ve been following the rental debate involving the Brattleboro Selectboard and the Brattleboro Tenants Union, and finding aspects of it perplexing. Brattleboro is gentrifying — it’s a hip little town in an attractive part of the country and the trend in rents has been up in recent years. That won’t get better now that people with more money than we have are moving here to get away from Covid. The solution to the problem of rising rents for lower income people has typically been to move away to someplace more affordable. It seems weird to me that you would be expected to get a loan, subsidy, or grant to rent in Brattleboro. If the rents are too high, then many moderate income people won’t be able to live here.  Simple as that.

What Brattleboro risks losing with the new high rents is the middle class. Affluent people are fine — they can afford the housing costs, and many could even afford to buy extra houses for investment properties if they wanted to. As for people with very low incomes, Brattleboro still has options through the Land Trust and other agencies. But it’s tough on those who fall in between. Some will say there are options for such people and maybe there are, but not the kinds of options likely to appeal to everyone.

One idea raised in last night’s meeting was increasing the number of so-called SRO units — that’s Single Room Occupancy, as in, one room, no kitchen, tiny bathlet. Other than students and very poor single people, who is that a solution for? Certainly not middle class singles, couples, or families.

I have nothing but sympathy for the renters of Brattleboro but despite their tenacity and grit, I fear they will lose, not necessarily the battle for the rental ordinance but the larger battle over the Brattleboro rental market. Frustrating though it is, we live in a capitalist society where renters are sources of income. Landlords may be very nice people but their goal is to make a profit. Short of a sudden burst of unprecedented altruism or a massive change in our economic system, it’s hard to see how this situation is going to change.

Comments | 1

  • One correction...

    Thanks for this OpEd, Lise.

    One correction, though. If, by “Land Trust,” you mean the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust, it’s important to know it is definitely not for people with very low incomes unless they are one of the few who made it through the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers.

    The Housing Trust absolutely requires a certain income level (via wages or other income/supports) to rent from them, and it absolutely leaves out people with very low incomes. I know this because a few months ago I moved into one of their apartments. I had to prove that my apartment, which currently rents for $649/month, wasn’t over a certain percentage of my monthly income. I don’t recall what the percentage was, but I think it was 30%.

    The tricky thing is, to remain on Medicaid, I have to have income right around the Housing Trust’s cut-off. It puts me in a really precarious place. I can’t afford most Brattleboro rents, and I can’t afford to get kicked off Medicaid. It’s not really possible for me to live in this town and earn enough to afford health insurance AND pay the high rents here. But, where will I go?

    I know I’m not alone in this.

    Here’s where I plug the Tenants Union of Brattleboro and the Vermont Workers’ Center. I’ve joined both organizations this year (as well as the Democratic Socialists of America) because working with others who are fighting for those of us who struggle helps me feel less hopeless.

    Here are links if you’re curious:

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