An Update on the HOME Bill (S.100)
on June 22, 2023
What's Happened So Far
In the United States, the vast majority of residential land is zoned exclusively for detached, single-family homes. Prior to California’s state-level reforms in 2021, even something as modest as a duplex could not be built in 78% of the state, according to a UC Berkeley study. This exclusionary zoning practice brings with it a host of negatives for affordability, sustainability, and even personal happiness.
Vermont is no different, but legislators are beginning to address these issues. This year saw the signing of S.100, the HOME bill. With it, Vermont joins a small, but growing number of states that have taken the necessary step of eliminating single-family zoning state-wide. Now, every town and city in Vermont must, by law, allow both duplexes and accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) to be built anywhere that residential construction is allowed. In areas with existing municipal water and sewer, multi-unit dwellings of four or fewer units (so triplexes and quadplexes) must also be allowed.
The following provisions apply only in areas with municipal water and sewer:
- Towns must now establish zoning laws that enable at least 5 housing units per acre.
- Towns cannot require more than 1 parking space per unit. You can learn more about parking minimums, and why they need to be removed, here.
- Affordable housing projects (including mixed-use developments) must be allowed to exceed existing density limitations by at least 40%, which includes adding 1 floor. So if a town doesn’t allow buildings taller than 3 stories and more than 10 units/lot, an affordable housing project in that same town is allowed to be, at minimum, 4 stories and 14 units.
A note on Act 250: The state’s flagship environmental law was the source of much debate during the legislative session. You can read more about that here. All things being equal, developers tend to avoid triggering Act 250 when possible, as doing so would generate additional fees and regulatory hurdles. Initially, S.100 proposed more aggressive reforms. These were scaled back in favor of the following:
- In designated growth areas (towns apply for these and receive designations from the state) developers can construct up to 24 units in a 5-year period within 5 miles without triggering the Act 250 review process. The prior limit was 9. If an existing structure is converted into a duplex, triplex or quadplex, it only counts as one unit for Act 250 purposes.
- Priority Housing Projects in municipalities with more than 10,000 residents (there are 11 of these) are not subject to Act 250 review.
What Happens Next?
Unfortunately, both those Act 250 changes will end in 2026 barring any further action. S.100 also directs Vermont’s Association of Planning and Development Agencies and the Natural Resources Board to develop a report on how to further reform Act 250 to encourage density and development in designated areas while protecting Vermont’s wildlands from being chopped up. Another report will detail how to delegate Act 250 authority to some municipalities to simplify the review process. These reports (and others) are due before the end of 2023, so stay tuned!
The HOME bill also included a number of appropriations for housing programs, including first-time homebuyer grants, middle-income home ownership subsidies, and rental housing construction and improvement loans.
S.100 is only the beginning. Our housing crisis has coalesced over decades of bad policy, and no single bill will be unable to undo all the damage. Towns and cities will now have to integrate S.100’s changes into their zoning codes, which will be a complex process.
In addition to the Act 250 report mentioned earlier, various other state agencies are also directed to furnish policy recommendations to reduce barriers to housing development. Be sure to push your legislators to continue the fight for housing next year! Solving this crisis will require sustained effort, creativity, and hard work, but it must be done to lead Vermont to a brighter future where everyone can live affordably.