Press Release

Welch Joins USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Ahmad, USDA RD State Director Waring, State and Local Housing Experts for Roundtable on Housing Challenges in Rural America 

Feb 15, 2024

ST. JOHNSBURY, VT – Today, U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, joined U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Farah Ahmad, Vermont State Director for USDA Rural Development Sarah Waring, and state and local housing experts for a roundtable discussion on current efforts to address urgent housing challenges facing Vermont and rural America. 

“The housing crisis impacts families in every corner of Vermont, and finding solutions to address this national emergency head-on requires coordination at all levels. Today, we heard about successes and challenges in addressing this crisis and shared ideas on how we can work together to implement new housing plans to build better futures for our communities. Having these conversations is crucial to developing comprehensive solutions to address the affordable housing shortage and rising homelessness crisis in our state and across the nation,” said Sen. Welch

Roundtable participants included:  

  • USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Farah Ahmad 
  • Vermont State Director for USDA Rural Development Sarah Waring 
  • Chris Cochran, Director, Community Planning & Revitalization, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) 
  • Rob Riley, President, Northern Forest Center (NRC) 
  • Jody Fried, Executive Director, Catamount Arts 
  • Chad Whitehead, Town Manager, Town of St. Johnsbury 
  • Joe Kasprzak, Assistant Town Manager, Town of St. Johnsbury 
  • Chris Saunders, Federal Co-Chair, Northern Border Regional Commission (NRBC) 
  • Patrick Shattuck, Executive Director, Rural Edge 
  • Seth Leonard, Managing Director of Community Development, Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) 
  • Ben Doyle, Executive Director, Preservation Trust of Vermont 
  • Amanda Cochrane, Executive Director, Umbrella 

“I am proud of the work that has been done by this community to develop strategies and initiatives to improve the full spectrum of housing that serves the needs of existing and future residents. None of our success could be possible without the critical support from the State and Federal level and we would like to thank Senator Welch, Dep USEC Farah Ahmad and their teams for all their work and support,” said Chad Whitehead, Town Manager, Town of St. Johnsbury

“The need for housing is dire across the Northeast Kingdom and impacts people across the economic spectrum. Each day, we get calls from people desperately in search of housing, many of those from folks in situations that they had never anticipated. Too, we are hearing from employers and town officials, concerned about the inability to fill vacant positions due to lack of housing or shifts in community composition as units change from permanent occupancy to second home or short-term rental. Thankfully, there is widespread consensus about the issue and the need for more housing. With towns, employers and concerned citizens working collectively to address this issue, supported by funders, and backed by our dedicated elected officials, we have the momentum and the will to tackle this – together,” said Patrick Shattuck, Executive Director, Rural Edge

“Housing is the foundation of strong and resilient rural communities in Vermont and across the nation. Vermonters are finding innovative paths to meeting community housing needs but we also need expanded support from the federal government to address the state’s well-documented shortage of homes. We are grateful for Senator Welch’s sustained leadership to harness federal funds and policies that will increase housing opportunities in Vermont’s rural communities,” said Seth Leonard, Managing Director of Community Development, Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA)

For a second consecutive year, Vermont has the second-highest homelessness rate in the nation. Vermont’s housing crisis was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with experiences of family homelessness increasing 213% since 2020, the largest percentage increase during that time period in the country. Vermont is also experiencing a housing shortage crisis. According to a 2023 report from the Office of the State Treasurer of Vermont, housing was the most cited reason for moving out of Vermont in 2021 and 2022. In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, over 2,000 households are on affordable housing waitlists for just 931 total affordable units in the region; of the 931 affordable units, just 19 were available: a vacancy rate of 2%. 

As Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Rural Development and Energy Subcommittee, Senator Welch plays a key role in many of the programs in USDA’s Rural Development mission area, including housing—a pressing issue for many Vermont communities. 

In December, Senator Welch joined the Vermont Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Vermont business leaders at the Vermont Chamber’s Wellspring Forum series in Waterbury to discuss federal efforts to address the housing shortage for middle-class workers and other areas for growth and economic opportunity. Also last year, Senator Welch joined Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and others in sending a letter to Senate leadership urging that any supplemental appropriations bill include funds to address the affordable housing crisis in America.