Feral housing is a relatively new term derived from the world of urban decay. Feral houses are abandoned homesteads, overrun by weeds, shrubs, and vines. In some places-such as inner city Detroit where the term was coined-feral houses are often used by the homeless, gang members, illegal drug users, and abandoned pets.
Now, the term is being applied to what appears to be an increasing number of abandoned structures right here in postcard Vermont. You can see these neglected homesteads in Burlington and Rutland, even in touristy Woodstock. Elsewhere, quasi-rural places such as Ferrisburgh and Bristol sport a few feral houses and farms of their own.
In Vermont, abandoned houses and farms have been blamed on everything from high taxes and unsettled estates to the current recession and Acts 60/68. In the case of the dairy business, the continued decline in family farming has resulted in a number of abandoned farms across the state.
Let's look at an unlikely place for feral housing: Woodstock. This gentrified community, which sports sidewalk dining, art shops, and ersatz sheep grazing on a hillside, has been cited in the news recently as a place where affluence and abandoned buildings manage to coexist, though maybe not so peacefully.
In a recent Vermont Standard commentary,
See HOUSING, page 5
From page 1
titled "Vermont in Decline", writer P.G. Behr described Woodstock's odd mix of community wealth coupled with the slow creep of feral housing:
"The East End (of Woodstock) is a disgrace. Instead of a thriving, manicured area, one arrives from the east to see weedy, overgrown spaces and shabby, abandoned buildings. The area should be redeveloped, and the town/village has the means to do so, but no incentive. Since Acts 60/68 came into being, Vermont towns do not benefit from expanding their tax bases," writes Behr. "By creating higher values for property within their boundaries, Vermont's towns generate more tax revenues for the state-virtually no benefits flow to the towns... Vermont's landowners have seen huge increases in real estate taxes. Equally huge increases have taken place in education spending, without any improvement in outcomes, while the student population has decreased and the teacher population has increased. The smartest high school graduates leave the state, usually for good."