Home, green home

Governor Douglas delivered his annual State of the State address last week, three days after the legislature reconvened for the 2008 session. The Governor spoke about prosperity through affordability and challenged state government to rethink, revitalize and reform the way it serves Vermonters. Among his top priorities was finding a solutions to our states critical need for housing. His proposed New Neighborhoods Initiative will help. It is estimated that Vermonts housing stock falls short by upwards of 20,000 homes. The result is housing gridlock for families and single Vermonters whose homes are inadequate for their needs, but have nowhere else to go. The state can and must do more to expand their options. This last weekend I was invited deliver opening remarks for the inaugural Vermont Green Builders & Energy Conservation Show at the Champlain Valley Exposition. The objective of this event was to show homebuyers and homeowners how to build or modify a home using environment-friendly green building and energy-saving products and services. People, literally, the world over, recognize Vermonts green brand. It has been forged and polished by Vermont farmers and woodlot owners over decades. Life sometimes is like surfing. Here in Vermont, we can surf the Green Wave that Vermonters have created. Ive talked for a few years about the Green Valley Project -- an idea that seeks to expand on our brand of environmental stewardship to grow jobs and enhance our quality of life. Forbes Magazine last fall shared our green vision with their 4 million readers. The title of the article is Vermont Green and Growing. Vermonts Green Builders are at the center of this vision. They are green and growing. Their work helps to inspire the minds of young Vermonters, connecting what they learn in the classroom with the challenges of the real world. I have been in classrooms and seen the excitement generated by the dream of building a better, greener world. Some of those youngsters will grow to become tomorrows green builders. We will need them. We are facing a demographic tsunami. Our over-65 population will double in the next 20 years. We must not only retain our young people, but also attract new young people to our state. Creating excitement, and creating green housing that young families can afford will help. Clean-tech featuring smarter designs, materials and construction protects our environment, restoring bluer skies and a greener planet. In Vermont, we know that about half our greenhouse gas comes from cars and about half comes from heating and cooling our homes. Our electric grid is now designed not for peak load in the winter, but for a hot summer day. Some 60% of our homes were built before WWII, when heating oil sold for pennies a gallon. Finding a way to burn less fossil fuel today will benefit our environment, our economic security or our national security. I share the Governors priorities for this new session of the legislature. We must rethink, revitalize and reform what we do in government to make Vermont more affordable, and to help secure prosperity for more Vermonters. Taxes are too high in Vermont. State government must rethink how to provide needed services while holding the line on taxes. We need to find a smarter way to deliver health care. And we need more homes for working Vermonters, young Vermonters and older Vermonters. We estimate that Vermont needs 20,000 rental units and 12,000 single-family homes. The New Neighborhoods Initiative would make more land available through adjustments to Act 250, and help ease planning and permitting for new homes. Supply and demand drive housing prices. When we put restrictions on what land can be used for housing, we depress supply, increase demand and increase prices. Last September, I toured nine senior centers, three diners and four senior residential homes. My mission was to share the work we have undertaken on the Governors Commission on Healthy Aging, which I chair. One of our major priorities has been to provide services that encourage older Vermonters to stay in their homes or age in place rather than being forced to move to senior homes before they are ready. But one woman who came to a meeting in Weathersfield gave me some strong feedback on that idea. She said, Staying in my home would make a lot more sense if there were more services in our area. Without them, its hard to live on your own. She said, I want to move into a senior residential setting, where theres common dining, and a common day area -- and less maintenance, and better access. That made me thinks. Here was a bright senior Vermonter who would rather live in a smaller home with shared services than continue to live alone in her house. Her house is an existing home that a young family could fill and afford. If we bring Vermonts lending community, our realtors and our homebuilders all together, there ought to be a way, based on the value of that home, to upgrade it with insulation, windows, weatherproofing, and energy-efficient systems and appliances then sell it to a young working family in need of a home and go on to leverage the value to construct green senior housing that would be just right for the woman in Weathersfield, and our other neighbors like her. That sounds like a good job for a lieutenant governor.

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