‘I don’t see how I can manage’: In Rutland, a motel resident struggles with uncertainty

an older woman standing in front of a car door.
‘I don’t see how I can manage’: In Rutland, a motel resident struggles with uncertainty
Susan Ladmer and her two dogs live at the Quality Inn in Rutland. They are seen on Thursday, June 29. As debates continued in Montpelier through the beginning of last week, Ladmer was unsure whether she’d be allowed to continue living there. Newly signed legislation allows her to stay, but she said she’ll have trouble meeting a new requirement to contribute to the cost of the room. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Susan Ladmer first wrote to a reporter in early June, asking for help.

“I am currently housed in a homeless motel. I am a 77 year old woman who suffered a stroke in December. Despite tremendous efforts to find out where I will be in July, at the end of the emergency housing program, no one can tell me,” she wrote at the time. “Just the stress of trying to find out and of trying to make certain I have somewhere to live is presently life threatening.”

Ladmer would not get clarity until last week. Two days before she was initially set to be booted from a pandemic-era program sheltering homeless people in motels, Gov. Phil Scott signed a measure that gives her and nearly 2,200 other people the option to stay where they are until April. (Participants will need to leave sooner if the state can identify alternate shelter for them.)

That extended help comes with new strings, including the requirement that motel residents begin paying 30% of their incomes toward the cost of their stays. The rule mirrors one that was included in the state’s pre-pandemic shelter program, as well as the federal standard for Section 8 vouchers. 

an older woman sitting in front of a tv.
Ladmer said a state worker calculated that she’ll owe about $300 a month, a third of her monthly Social Security check. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, who played a key role in negotiating the new law, argued it’s only fair to ask households to begin paying in.

“There has to be some reciprocity here between the household and their responsibilities and the publicly funded benefit,” she said.

But this latest news, which Ladmer received only days before she was told she would have to pay, has left her panicked and infuriated. She said a state worker calculated that she’ll owe about $300 a month, a third of her monthly Social Security check.

“I’m out of money now. I mean, I’m at the end of the month, and that was with the $300,” she told VTDigger last week. “I don’t see how I can manage without it. I mean — I know I can’t.”

Ladmer noted that those who are eligible for vouchers until April, such as herself, qualified for the help in part because they met certain special criteria. They are elderly, receive federal disability benefits, have children, are pregnant, or are fleeing domestic violence, for example. 

The state is “putting the load of handling the motels on the vulnerable people,” she said, “as if that answers the money problem, when the money problem is created by the overpayment to the motels.”

Back when the federal government was picking up the tab for the program, Vermont did, for some time, allow motels to name their price, although state officials later capped the monthly rate at $5,250. The state is now paying for the program, and the latest legislation instructs the Agency of Human Services to negotiate further reduced rates with motels.

But motel owners don’t necessarily have to accept lower rates. Ladmer, on the other hand, is now required to give a third of her income to maintain her shelter. She filed an appeal but predicted it will be an “exercise in futility.”

an older woman in a red jacket sitting in a chair.
Ladmer once worked as a museum administrator and, later, a horse trainer. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Ladmer’s road to the Rutland Quality Inn where she now lives with her two dogs has been long and winding. Born in New York, Ladmer once worked as a museum administrator and, later, a horse trainer. But a chronic pain condition called complex regional pain syndrome largely took her out of the workforce in the late 1990s. 

She found a doctor who helped her manage the pain through hypnosis, and, after relocating to New Hampshire, tried to find work again. But employers wouldn’t hire her, she said, because her medical condition threatened to spike their insurance premiums. 

Struggling to finish paying off her home and property taxes, and seeing no other options, she took out a reverse mortgage — a move she said she knew was a bad deal, even at the time she made it. She tried to supplement her income by selling antiques, but couldn’t make enough, and lost the house.

“I have accomplished things in my life, many things I’m very proud of. And it’s hard now to be stripped of everything,” she said. “I thought I could get out of it.”

Last spring, she moved to Vermont with her dogs, attempting to make it work in an RV on land in Cavendish. But then came the fall’s cooler temperatures, and in November friends insisted she move into a local hotel, where the state was sheltering people experiencing homelessness.

Her initial plan had been to return to the camper after the winter. But it has no running water, no electricity, no sewer hookup, and no cell phone service. Still recovering from a stroke, which struck her in December and hospitalized her for nine days, Ladmer no longer thinks she could survive in the RV.

a woman walks her dog in front of a building.
Ladmer takes her two dogs for a walk at the Quality Inn in Rutland. “Believe me, I tried every which way to make this thing work out,” she said. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

But neither does she think she can afford what the state wants her to pay. Between car payments, financing on the camper, credit card debt she took on during the move, insurance, and food, all of her money is already budgeted.

“Believe me, I tried every which way to make this thing work out. And as I’m sitting in this situation, I just wish there was some other way to make it work out because I hate this,” she said. “I truly, truly hate this.”

As she spoke to a reporter over the phone, a friend’s husband stopped by to drop off forms she needed to fill out to apply for housing and services. She paused for a moment to begin leafing through the stack of paperwork.

“God. You know, I used to write grant applications for the museum. And I swear they weren’t as involved as these applications are,” she said. “They were for a lot more money, too.”

Read the story on VTDigger here: ‘I don’t see how I can manage’: In Rutland, a motel resident struggles with uncertainty.

Frustrated rent control advocates say Fresno leaders aren’t listening, but the fight isn’t over

Community residents and housing advocates are regrouping after an unsuccessful push for Fresno’s new city budget to include a rent control program. 

“Community members are disappointed, and there really is this feeling that their narratives, their testimony aren’t being taken seriously,” said Marisa Moraza, a campaign director with Power California Action.

That fight, advocates acknowledge, is an increasingly uphill battle in Fresno, where the mayor and city council have said solving the statewide housing crisis means incentivizing development and courting reinvestment.

Rent control, they argue, would be counterproductive to building new housing units.

“In terms of rent control, I can tell you I don’t support that because I’ve seen what has happened in other cities,” Mayor Jerry Dyer said during a news conference Thursday following the budget’s adoption. “When rent control is implemented, ultimately, you have landlords making fewer dollars, and so they’re not investing in their property. And as a result, we end up with a lot of slums within a city.”

Despite lingering frustrations, housing advocates say they aren’t backing down on their demands.

In May, a coalition of advocacy organizations sent a letter to Dyer and the Fresno City Council, listing a series of budget requests on everything from transportation and infrastructure to housing and, specifically, a new rent control program.

In the letter, advocates said the city should establish a board to enforce rent-control policies, which, they say, would stabilize rents in Fresno.

“We wanted to also wrap in the opportunity to actually allocate funding for something like a rent control program,” Moraza said. “It would be a very low funding allocation, but just having that allocation then opens the door to conversation of building up a policy.”

Mayor, council push to build more affordable housing, remain opposed to rent control

Just before the city council approved the 2024 fiscal year budget Thursday, a group of community residents and housing advocates, with signs in hand, rallied inside the Fresno Council Chambers.

“What do we want? Rent Control!” The group chanted. “When do we want it? Now!”

About 15 seconds into the chant, Council President Tyler Maxwell put the city council meeting into recess for five minutes, and the city’s live feed and audio cut out shortly after.

The chant capped about two months of Fresno residents and housing advocates showing up to public comment before a city council – which they have noted is composed of a majority of landlords – to voice their concerns about rising rents.

“This is really like our final attempt to be able to speak directly to council members because the in-person meetings (with them) weren’t making a shift,” Moraza said. “We’re now seeing that public comment is not making a shift.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Dyer said the rent control issue was a nonstarter.

Dyer said passing rent control would send a message to housing developers to leave Fresno, which he said could lead to a lack of housing production and actually drive rents up. Dyer has maintained that the city can resolve its housing crisis by building more units, and rent control does not fit his vision.

Since 2021, 400 new affordable housing units have been built and are currently occupied in Fresno, city spokesperson Sontaya Rose told Fresnoland in May. She said the city plans to add 2,493 more affordable housing units by the end of 2025.

But when new affordable housing developments open up, applications pour in.

One 60-unit affordable housing development in Clovis recently received over 10,000 applications, and another 57-unit development that opened up in Fresno’s Chinatown received 4,000 applications, said Michael Duarte, the chief real estate officer at the Fresno Housing Authority, at a June 15 Fresnoland/CalMatters panel on housing.

Duarte added that the Fresno Housing Authority received 10,000 applications in less than one day for its Section 8 housing voucher waitlist. 

Rent control isn’t the only way to help tenants, leaders say

In an interview with Fresnoland, Fresno City Council President Tyler Maxwell said he sees both sides of the issue but said he believes rent comes down to simple supply-and-demand economics.

He added the best way to bring rent down is to increase the housing supply, and that means construction.

“These last three years, I can tell you that we have set a record when it comes to either subsidizing or helping initiate affordable housing projects here in the city of Fresno,” Maxwell said. “It’s a priority for not just this council but the mayor and his administration to really try to expedite as many housing projects as possible.”

In lieu of rent control, Maxwell said the council in recent years has taken steps to beef up some protections for tenants.

He pointed to the city’s Eviction Protection Program, which Maxwell co-authored in 2021.

The program, which provides legal representation for tenants facing eviction, wasn’t included in the proposed budget that Dyer released in May. 

Maxwell, the only city councilmember who rents his home, pushed to save the program with a budget motion to put $2 million towards the program’s third year. He said he hopes the program wouldn’t require a budget motion to get funding in the future.

“Going forward, my hope is that it starts getting baked into the proposed budget,” Maxwell said. “Ether because it’s a priority for the mayor or a priority for the city attorney.”

Maxwell added that another piece of legislation he authored, the Tenant Relocation Assistance Program, helps renters avoid getting displaced due to unhealthy or unsafe living conditions. The ordinance requires landlords to assist with the expense of relocating tenants to complete needed renovations or face fines.

However, the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a key COVID-19-era effort that provided assistance with rent and utility bills to Fresno residents who met income requirements, is going away soon. The $54 million from federal and state governments that funded the program is almost depleted, and the remaining $2.5 million in funding remaining for the program will likely get spent in the next fiscal year.

With no city funding to keep the program around next year, it will likely end soon.

“There was a lot of community momentum and energy that really shows that folks care about this issue,” said Marisa Moraza, a campaign director with Power California Action. “We will continue to push for this rent control demand.”

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