January 2021 Legislative Brief
Housing is Health:
Building on Vermont's Pandemic Success to Advance Health Equity
Vermont has led the United States in its response to the COVID-19. A critical and underappreciated component of what Dr. Anthony Fauci has described as the “model for the US” is Vermont’s use of housing policy to control the pandemic. The state enacted one of the country’s most comprehensive eviction moratoriums, provided rent relief for landlords, expanded its existing motel voucher program to rehouse homeless Vermonters from shelters to motels, and instituted a moratorium on utility shut-offs.
Researchers from Dartmouth’s Center for Global Health Equity studying COVID-19 and rural health equity in Northern New England (New Hampshire and Vermont) have documented the critical role that these housing interventions played in protecting Vermont’s most vulnerable from COVID-19. Growing national research highlights that housing protections play a critical role not only in reducing cases and deaths among their immediate beneficiaries but also in controlling the pandemic at population level. Dartmouth’s research has documented early impacts of these benefits beyond COVID-19 on access to health and social services while highlighting the critical need for more affordable housing and supportive housing in the state.
Investments in housing are critical for sustaining these gains as well as in addressing other persistent health disparities in the state, including the opioid epidemic. The 2017 Roadmap to End Homelessness defines a clear path forward and reflects broad consensus across state and social service agencies. The infusion of federal funding for housing provides resources to accelerate action on this plan.
A large body of academic literature demonstrates significant benefits from stable housing on a broad range of indicators of health and well-being. This literature, as well as Dartmouth’s own recent research, provides three priorities that can guide policy makers and legislators as they decide how best to move forward on housing policy:
1. Maintain pandemic housing protections to address immediate housing security.
2. Expand supportive housing.
3. Invest in significant expansion and improvement of affordable housing.
Vermont is well-positioned to build from its housing policy successes during the pandemic into using housing as a durable solution to improving the health of Vermonters. This brief represents a collaboration between researchers from Dartmouth’s Center for Global Health Equity and Vermont Legal Aid to translate evidence on the impact of housing on health into actionable policy recommendations for Vermont’s leadership.