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Big ideas for local housing challenges

By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 11/4/2019

Although Vermont communities face hard work in turning the tide of rising housing affordability, consensus is growing about the most effective ways to do this.  At a recent gathering convened by Fannie Mae and the Urban Institute, business, government and non-profit leaders agreed that many of the root causes and solutions to the nation’s housing affordability crisis are tied to local action. 

The most powerful strategies available to communities seeking more balance in the affordability of their housing stock are:

  1. Work to include the views of the most affected residents.
  2. Identify and address lingering structural inequalities.  
  3. Focus on developing housing near jobs and other critical services. 

Vermont communities can learn from successes in Minneapolis about ways to broaden civic engagement to include potential beneficiaries of more affordably priced housing. An extensive study by Boston University found that people who participate in planning and zoning meetings often do not match the demographics of their communities as a whole.

Disparities in the white and black homeownership rate are a glaring symptom of long-standing structural housing market inequality.  With a black homeownership rate of only 22 percent, compared to 71 percent among white residents, learning from other states is tantamount for Vermont.  Nationally, 43 percent of black households are homeowners.

Vermont communities who join forces to develop housing near jobs and services are likely to see benefits quickly in terms of improved overall affordability, lessened commuting and invested residents. Initiatives such as the Keys to the Valley currently underway in the eastern part of the state are looking strategically about how to create and support the most needed types of homes. Similarly, the Zoning for Great Neighborhoods program will use six case study Vermont communities to demonstrate how local requirements can promote housing and walkability in downtown areas. 

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