(a) The dual goals of creating affordable housing for Vermonters, and conserving and protecting Vermont's agricultural land, forestland, historic properties, important natural areas, and recreational lands are of primary importance to the economic vitality and quality of life of the State.
(b) In the best interests of all of its citizens and in order to improve the quality of life for Vermonters and to maintain for the benefit of future generations the essential characteristics of the Vermont countryside, and to support farm, forest, and related enterprises, Vermont should encourage and assist in creating affordable housing and in preserving the State's agricultural land, forestland, historic properties, important natural areas and recreational lands, and in keeping conserved agricultural land in production and affordable for future generations of farmers.
~10 V.S.A. Chapter 15
The pace and pattern of development in Vermont in the mid-1980s was threatening historic settlement patterns and the rural character of the state. Housing prices were rapidly rising beyond the reach of Vermonters, development pressure on the state’s valuable agricultural and natural lands was escalating at a record pace, and historic properties and downtowns were being abandoned for suburban, sprawl development. In 1986, a coalition of affordable housing, conservation, and historic preservation advocates concerned with this rapid change in the character of the Vermont landscape approached the state legislature with a plan to form a unique agency to review and fund projects addressing a range of community needs. The Legislature responded, passing the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund Act, enacted in June 1987, and capitalized with $3 million.
The statute dictated the makeup of the nine-member Board: five citizen members appointed by the Governor, to include an advocate for low-income Vermonters and a farmer, the Commissioners of the state agencies of Agriculture, Housing and Community Development, and Natural Resources, and the Executive Director of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. In July 1987, the Board held its first meeting.
In September 1987, then Governor Madeleine Kunin established a Commission on Vermont's Future, charged with the mission of assessing the concerns of Vermont citizens on the issue of growth, establishing guildelines for growth, and suggesting mechanisms to help plan for Vermont's future. Through a process of public hearings at which thousands of Vermonters spoke about their concerns, the Commission gathered public input to create their report, issued in January 1988, Guidelines for Growth. In 1988 Vermont had a budget surplus, and upon the recommendation of the Governor's Commission on Vermont's Future, the legislature appropriated $20 million to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund.
The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board was up and running, and momentum was building. With the new source of state funding, housing and conservation nonprofits were able to conceive and carry out projects within communities around the state that had not previously been possible. VHCB funds closed a critical gap in the financing of affordable housing projects and brought new conservation funds to the table, initiating a new era in the conservation of Vermont's agricultural lands and natural areas.