History is replete with myths and distortions that have driven unwise practices and policies often resulting in tragic consequences.

Wars in America were launched with lies about the USS Maine, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and, of course, who can ever forget the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Over time, those lies have been exposed and become historic myths.

Today in Vermont we are being fed three myths all playing out at once. If turned into practice and law, the combination of the three would be devastating to the iconic character and unique position of our state as a leader in protecting the environment.

Myth number one centers on the recklessly trumpeted need to construct 40,000 new homes by the year 2030. Many have already debunked this inflated number by calling into question the new home estimates built with false assumptions categorized as expected growth (10,231 homes) and pre-pandemic growth (11,454 homes), totaling 21,685 new homes.

All the current population forecasts indicate a very slow and modest population growth. Using state occupancy formulas, 21,685 new households translate to well over 50,000 new residents moving here within seven years. Under the best of circumstances, no demographer would support such a projection or myth.

Do we need more housing? Absolutely. But we need housing to return to our normalized home vacancy rates (11,023) to address our homeless rates (2,780) and to replace destroyed homes (2,570), making them habitable. By most projections, these three critical housing needs total 16,373 new homes, again not even close to the casually bantered myth of 40,000 new homes needed.

Myth number two centers on the recent outcry of 24,000 job vacancies in Vermont. A close examination of that number reveals some important data. By reviewing the three largest employers in Vermont — the state, University of Vermont Medical Center and affiliated hospitals, and the University of Vermont and other colleges — one can find many vacancies that require some educational background, experience or a specific high-level skill. For sure, we need these professional workers. They would be welcomed to our state. However, nowhere is there a need for 24,000.

For every high-skill job listed, there are at least as many vacancies for caregivers, receptionists, carpenters, laborers, building and grounds maintenance, prep and line cooks, bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, TSA airport positions, intake coordinators, night security officers, office assistants — all important service industry positions central to an effective economy. Surely, these vacancies make up a substantial portion of the 24,000 figure.

It follows then that we should not be building homes in anticipation of a great migration of out-of-staters to fill these lower-skill positions when those who seek these positions can likely find this work in their own states. So in reality the job vacancies that would attract people to move to Vermont are considerably lower than 24,000.

The real danger here is that the 24,000-job vacancy myth feeds the 40,000 new homes needed myth, creating a false sense of urgency. We’ll be fine for now if we recruit qualified candidates for highly skilled jobs, focus on improving the normalized vacancies and replacement homes in our housing stock, and at the same time improve the wages and benefits offered to those who apply for jobs in our critical service industries.

Myth number three continues to be advanced by advocates representing affordable housing needs and related building industries. Smart growth principles should govern wherever we build, and nowhere is that more essential than when creating housing for those with modest resources. Without a car, these individuals and families need to be near public transportation and municipal services. This, in turn, means not building housing miles from city and village centers, isolating people from their workplace and daily needs.

Those who support the construction of new housing for everyone in city and village core locations and at the same time support conserving as much of the natural environment to deal with the climate crisis are not only being called elitist by some but have also been accused of discriminating against those in need of housing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Promoting smart growth is not elitist or discriminatory. Smart growth is an environmental imperative given our climate crisis and it’s fair and equitable to those who need affordable housing.

Saving the environment is obviously to everyone’s benefit. Taking the bold steps needed to mitigate the climate crisis belongs in the forefront of all policy and should be our top priority. That’s a necessity. We are all environmentalists now, no matter where we live. Nor is it discriminatory to build housing of all types away from those open fields, meadows and forests in need of immediate protection. That’s a necessity as well. It’s time for the name calling and labeling to stop.

I remain hopeful that we can put these three myths behind us. There is no time to waste. Together we need to address Vermont’s housing concerns and job vacancies using responsible practices, accurate projections and at the same time protect our fragile and failing environment, which if developed any further, will make increasing our housing stock and filing job vacancies a dream lost in a very short space of time.

Vermont’s iconic character and quality of life will be gone forever if we continue to promote these three myths and not expose them as distortions with tragic consequences.

John Bossange is a board member on the South Burlington Land Trust, serves on the city’s natural resource and conservation committee, and represents South Burlington on the Champlain Valley Conservation Partnership.

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