NeighborWorks Welcomes Refugees As Way to Strengthen Regional Economy
The Board of Directors of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont respectfully submits this letter as a declaration of our collective approval and pleasure at the designation of Rutland as a refugee resettlement city.
We welcome refugee resettlement as a confirmation of Rutland’s historic role of welcoming other immigrants – immigrants who have been embraced without discrimination or rancor – and whose children and descendants have become leaders of our community. And from that historical lesson we are confident that the new refugees, in return, will help Rutland and the region both in terms of diversity and economic development. We view the resettlement as a driver to NeighborWorks’ mission to strengthen the development of our regional economy.
NeighborWorks of Western Vermont actively works to empower and support homebuyers and owners in Rutland, Addison, and Bennington counties. Strengthening the regional economy is a crucial component to ensuring Rutland residents have economic opportunities for personal growth and development, the ability to support their families, and the capacity to invest in the community through homeownership.
We recognize homeownership as the foundation to stable and resilient communities; homeowners have made an investment in their home and therefore their neighborhood and their city. They take pride in their property and reap many benefits- homeowners and their families are, on average, healthier, happier, and more successful than non-homeowners. For these reasons and many more, we work to lower the threshold to homeownership and we support existing homeowners by investing in neighborhoods. We’ve been a proud participant of Project VISION since its inception and we devote time and resources to our neighborhoods because we understand that strong neighborhoods are crucial to Rutland’s vitality and sustainability.
This is why we can speak with first-hand experience: Rutland not only has the heart and capacity for welcoming and supporting refugees – it needs them. In the past decade, Rutland’s narrative has become one of a community-inspired and led comeback. The unemployment rate is 3.6% and declining, the downtown boasts 95% occupancy, and a proactive approach has been taken to address substance abuse: the waitlist at the methadone clinic is now zero.
In short, we have something great going in Rutland – but we need the population to maintain it.
Indeed, we have a declining population problem looming that must be addressed for positive momentum to continue. Rutland, a city built for 19,000, is now home to just under 16,000. Since 2000, the population has shrunk by 7.8% and has aged – the amount of persons over 65 years old in Rutland has increased to 20% from 16.6% five years ago. As a consequence, the tax base (the “Grand List”) shrinks, there are fewer consumers to support our local businesses, and fewer eligible candidates to fill job positions.
We have observed other refugee resettlement cities, particularly our neighbors in Winooski, and seen the beneficial economic implications, due particularly to the reversal of population loss. The resettlement of refugees in our community will increase the tax base, provide new consumers for our local businesses, and new employees for our employers.
We are confident that the designation of Rutland as a Refugee Resettlement community will have a tremendously positive impact on Rutland and the broader region. Rutland will reap the many benefits of refugee resettlement for years to come. We look forward to continuing to work with Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, the city, the business community, local non-profits, and residents as we welcome the refugees into our communities and neighborhoods.
Jim Leary, Chair of Revitalization Committee of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont