In the past month, a lecture series about the housing crisis organized by local design/build school Yestermorrow has explored various programs and remedies across scales. On April 24, Amy Tomasso, a project manager at the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, summarized what the state is doing – or hoping to do – to incentivize the development of ‘missing middle’ housing.



Previously, Tomasso was a community planner at the Mad River Valley Planning District. She said that while housing affordability is a big issue – with 50% of renters and 24% of homeowners spending over 30% of their income on housing costs – the state is facing a severe lack of available housing. 

40,000 BY 2030

The state needs to see the construction of about 40,000 housing units by 2030, she said, citing a figure from the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA), while development growth – measured by the number of issued building permits – has been 0-1% in the past two decades.

Tomasso talked about the Vermont Housing Improvement Program, which awards grants of up to $50,000 for property owners to rehab existing units or build new ones. In the past two years, these grants have funded over 500 units across the state. She also pointed to VHFA funding for pre-development costs like engineering and design work, and the passage of the Home Act (Act 47) last year. That legislation reduces parking minimums, allows for the development of duplexes and other housing types in any residential district, and increases “gentle density” – allowing five units per acre in areas served by water and sewer systems.

She said that land use regulations and legal codes should support a variety of housing types – especially ‘missing middle’ structures that are larger than single-family homes and smaller than big apartment complexes. About 70% of the state’s housing stock consists of detached single-family homes, she added, when most of these households are occupied by no more than two people. 


Vermont has the largest lot sizes in the U.S. as well, at an average of 1.8 acres. Tomasso pulled up the Vermont Zoning Atlas – an online mapping tool that visualizes many aspects of zoning, created by a grassroots team working with students and regional planning commissions. It showed how most Vermont towns disappear from the map when a user selects for areas where single-family homes are allowed on lots less than one-quarter acre. The requirement for building on large lots, she said, increases sprawl and car dependency, and creates neighborhoods that are less welcoming for a diverse range of people.

Tomasso gave an update of current legislation – like a bill that proposes changes to the state’s land use and development law, or Act 250. Although it was intended to reduce the impacts of large-scale development on the environment when it was passed in 1970, it has created barriers to development by requiring extensive permitting processes. For example, if a developer seeks to build more than 10 units within 5 miles of each other in a five-year period, they must enter into a permitting process that can add months and around $50,000 in extra costs, Tomasso said.

The new bill (H.687), if passed, would allow up to 50 units within a quarter-mile radius of village centers or along some transit corridors, among other reforms. “Act 250 is a hot topic,” Tomasso said. “There’s some who don’t think this goes far enough, in clearing the way for housing, and there’s some who think this goes too far.”

Tomasso’s department has been working to classify additional land across the state for development – from .03% to 6% of land, which would open up more funding that towns can apply toward housing and infrastructure. They also recently completed a ‘Design & Do’ Toolkit – a large booklet with design guides, case studies and a trove of other resources for home builders, investors, and others. A PDF of the book can be found online.