Vermont Struggles to Provide Affordable Housing: Part one – the lay of the land
Whether we call it affordable housing, student housing, workforce housing or senior housing, a warm dry place to call home is critically important to all of us. Vermont’s future depends on increasing the supply of affordable to all corners of the state. Businesses large and small, young couples hoping to start a family, budding entrepreneurs, people with disabilities and college students all need an expanding variety of housing alternatives. And of course the elderly who want to age in place have a hard time locating a home within walking distance of basic necessities.
Whose Involved While Vermont continues to struggle to provide affordable housing units in sufficient numbers, there are many efforts in place that have proved their worth. The landscape of providers, each of which uses available resources to fit a local need, is organized as follows:
Regional Housing Non-Profits. They develop and may also manage the lion’s share of our affordable housing. Examples familiar to us may include Twin Pines Housing Trust in the Upper Valley, Neighbor Works in Rutland County, and Housing Vermont that operates statewide.
Public Housing Authorities. There are 12 that are commonly operated by cities and larger towns.
Privately owned multi-family and single-family units. These may have been built with a federal subsidy and may include units covered by Federal Section 8* Vouchers.
Funding agencies such as the Department of Housing and Community Development that distribute federal Community Development Block Grants. These grants go to municipalities that, in turn, use them in conjunction with other funds to build community based affordable housing.
Vermont Housing Finance Agency. VHFA awards federal tax credits and floats bonds that are targeted towards affordable rental and first time hope buyers.
Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. VHCB uses its annual state budget appropriation to purchase land and provide capital for new affordable housing developments. VHCB’s unique approach may involve important land conservation in conjunction with new housing construction.
Vermont State Housing Authority manages over half of Vermont’s Section 8 housing. Section 8 is a federal program that provides rental assistance vouchers and also project based subsidies tied to specific projects. Tenant based vouchers may cover a portion of rent for qualifying low-income renters and goes directly to the owner of the housing unit.
In addition to new construction and substantial renovation (such as when an entire block of existing housing is purchased, gutted and made new) significant efforts are also being made to provide small scale remodeling, provide financial assistance to lower-income first time homebuyers and to weatherize existing housing stock. Much of our older housing stock may appear quaint as we drive by, but if heat pours through cracks around sills and windows, much of a monthly budget may go to energy corporations outside Vermont instead of supporting the local economy. Much of these efforts are provided by Community Action Programs or CAPs. In the Upper Valley, these include CapStone in Barre and SEVCA in White River and Springfield. Additional work is provided on a largely volunteer basis by COVER Home Repair and Habitat for Humanity. For a young couple starting out, an entrepreneur moving back to Vermont to establish a business, or an elderly couple needing handicap accessibility, all of these efforts are very important.
It may seem odd that there are so many different organizations that appear to be doing much the same thing. In fact, each has an independent mission and a local or regional role to play. What is significant about each of these is that when considered in aggregate, they accomplish a lot.
Coming soon – part two, stumbling blocks and addressing the need.
Pictured below: Jim (on left) working with Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Hartland