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.