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By: Mia Watson on 5/22/2020

A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston estimates that job losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic could put 21,351 Vermont homeowner and 23,561 renter households at high risk of not being able to pay their mortgage or rent.

Although many Vermonters will feel the economic impact of the pandemic, workers in occupations with greater risk of layoffs and furloughs are especially likely to have difficulty paying for housing. This includes jobs categorized as nonessential, cannot be done from home and are paid hourly. In Vermont, a large number of these jobs are likely to be located in the leisure, tourism and hospitality sectors.

According to the Federal Reserve’s analysis of Census data, 36% of Vermont homeowners have at least one member in a high-risk occupation, including 17% that have all members in high-risk occupations. The share of renters at high risk is even greater, with 43% of households with at least one high-risk worker, and 26% with all members in high risk occupations.

Homeowners are more likely to be able to weather the economic impact of the pandemic than renters. Sixty three percent of Vermont homeowners have a monthly housing payment (in the form of a mortgage), compared to 94% of renters. Homeowners are also more likely to have savings and to have other non-earnings income in the form of retirement, investments, Social Security or welfare payments. The Federal Reserve estimates that 32% of Vermont renters could not afford their monthly rent if all members working in high-risk jobs became unemployed and did not have access to government assistance, compared to just 11% of homeowners.

It remains unknown how many at-risk households will actually become unemployed, and how long job losses will persist. At Vermont’s highest recent unemployment level to date, over 81,000 Vermonters filed for benefits. The number of weekly Vermont unemployment claims has been declining since the week of April 25, although it is not yet clear whether this is due to workers becoming reemployed, businesses obtaining access to PTT loans to temporarily pay workers or lingering administrative delays related to benefits processing.

The Federal Reserve suggests that emergency payments under the federal CARES Act combined with state-level eviction and foreclosure moratoriums may substantially mitigate the impact of New England job losses. Under their best-case analysis, if 95% of eligible Vermont households receive stimulus and unemployment payments, 1.9% of homeowners and 6.8% of renters would be at high risk of nonpayment.

However, supplemental unemployment under the CARES Act will expire at the end of July. Unless most workers are able to return to work by that time, or the federal government provides additional funding, non-payments resulting from job losses may simply be deferred until later in the summer. The Federal Reserve estimates that without federal assistance, missed mortgage and rent payments in Vermont could total up to $48 million per month, which could have a large impact on Vermont’s housing market and economy as a whole.

By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 5/20/2020

Suffolk University graduate student Emerald Anderson has been named the Summer 2020 Vermont Housing Fellow. Anderson will receive a financial stipend to improve and expand information available to decision makers about Vermont housing markets and opportunities. In addition, the program is intended to provide the fellow with valuable experience aiding to her professional development.

From Weymouth, Massachusetts, Anderson is pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Prior to starting her graduate work, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Legal Studies.

The goal of the Vermont Housing Fellow program is to cultivate interest among graduate students nationwide in Vermont-based affordable housing careers with a specific goal of growing the diversity of experiences and perspectives used when thinking about the housing needs in Vermont.

VHFA’s Housing Fellow program provides students in Vermont and beyond its borders with the opportunity to relate knowledge gained in the classroom to practical, real-world settings.  The Agency plans to appoint a new student to the fellowship each semester.

VHFA is currently accepting applications for the fellowship for the fall semester of 2020. Please contact VHFA’s Human Resources Director Steve Gronlund (sgronlund@vhfa.org) for more information. Candidates must be graduate students enrolled at an accredited program. Internship course credits may be available through his or her university or through the University of Vermont’s Public Administration program. For information about University of Vermont credits, please contact Julie Starr at jstarr2@uvm.edu.  

By: Mia Watson on 5/19/2020

The Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity in the Department for Children and Families is now accepting proposals for the Phase IV Expansion of the Family Supportive Housing program for FY21. Family Supportive Housing places families experiencing homelessness into housing and provides long-term, intensive service coordination and case management to help families keep housing.

 Through agreements between non-profit services providers and housing providers such as land trusts, private landlords or housing authorities, local FSH partnerships will provide customized, intensive case management, service coordination and affordable housing to families with children who have experienced homelessness. Supportive services stay with participant families from homelessness through at least their first 24 months of housing and are adjusted or extended as necessary to promote housing stability and positive participant engagement.

More information on the RFP and the application materials are available online.  In addition, OEO will hold a webinar with more information on May 20, 2020 at 2:30 – 3:30PM. Register online for access. The webinar will be recorded and posted online.

The deadline to submit proposals is 4:00 PM on Friday, June 5, 2020.

By: Caroline Rubin on 5/14/2020

Haven’t gotten around to completing the 2020 Census yet? If you did not receive materials in the mail with instructions to complete the 2020 Census, you can follow the link below, which provides comprehensive instructions to complete the process:

Start questionnaire

On March 12th, the United States Census Bureau began issuing questionnaires in the mail to homes across the United States for residents to complete the 2020 Census. The very next day, Governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency in Vermont due to the coronavirus pandemic and as of May 12th, only 49.7% of Vermont households have responded to the questionnaire, compared to a nationwide rate of 58.6%.

View real-time updates of the U.S. Census response rates.

The circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused the already-complicated process of gathering data for the Decennial Census to become much more complex and multi-faceted. 

Normally, Census workers are deployed to go door-to-door in their communities to help ensure that populations such as nursing homes residents are able to be counted, in addition to other populations who do not have access to completing the Census questionnaire online. With stay-at-home orders in place, Census workers are not able to provide this crucial in-person service to community members who cannot complete this process independently. 

Vermonters lives are stressful and uncertain in many ways right now, and it is understandable that present circumstances make it difficult for residents to prioritize filling out the Census. That being said, gathering accurate Census data is vital to ensuring that our state receives the federal funding needed to support Vermonters and the state’s economy following this period of decline. In addition, counts of households resulting from the 2020 Census will be used to make impactful decisions for the next 10 years.

By: Mia Watson on 5/13/2020

The Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) Board of Commissioners announced on Monday the award of federal and state housing tax credits and loans to support the development, rehabilitation or preservation of 104 permanently affordable apartments in six communities across the state.

VHFA previously awarded federal allocated or Ceiling tax credits in March. The latest funding round includes additional federal Bond credits, Vermont Affordable Housing Tax Credits and permanent and construction loans issued by VHFA.

“Increasing access to safe and affordable housing has never been more important as Vermont begins to recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” remarked VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins. “VHFA is pleased that we were able to leverage these diverse funding sources to both preserve existing homes and develop new apartments to meet the overwhelming unmet need.”

Projects receiving funding include Bennington Family Housing, a collaboration between Shires Housing and the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless. Shires Housing will acquire and rehabilitate an existing historic building on Pleasant Street to serve as the new site of the Thatcher House Family Shelter. The renovated building will offer nine apartments for households transitioning out of homelessness, paired with on-site supportive services. The project received federal and state tax credits and a construction loan.

In the Clark Canal Phelps project, Windham & Windsor Housing Trust will rehabilitate 26 apartments in four different historic buildings in downtown Brattleboro and three in downtown Windsor. The existing affordable multifamily buildings will receive new heating systems, energy efficiency upgrades and accessibility improvements. The project received federal and state tax credits and a construction loan.

Prospect Place is a 132 mixed income new development in South Burlington, with 26 apartments affordable for low and moderate income households. All of the affordable apartments will receive federal vouchers to ensure that residents pay no more than 30% of income towards their housing expenses. The new building will join recently-built affordable apartments at Allard Square and Garden Street, as well as a new city hall and public library, forming the new City Center neighborhood. The project, developed by Snyder Braverman Development Company, received state tax credits.

Downstreet Housing and Community Development and Housing Vermont will redevelop five buildings of existing affordable housing in Wells River Village in Newbury. The historic buildings offer 29 total apartments and first floor commercial spaces. The project received state tax credits.

At West Burke Housing, Housing Vermont and RuralEdge will rehabilitate existing affordable housing, purchasing the property from a private landlord to ensure its permanent affordability. The project will involve 15 existing apartments, nine of which are reserved for seniors, as well as adding eight new units. Fifteen units will receive federal vouchers to ensure rental affordability. In addition, RuralEdge will add three apartments to its portfolio reserved for formerly homeless households. The project will include upgrades to well and wastewater systems, energy efficiency improvements and accessibility updates. The project received federal and state tax credits.

In addition to the housing credits and loans awarded by VHFA, other funding sources for these developments include grants and loans from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the federal HOME program, USDA Rural Development (RD), the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program, the National Housing Trust Fund, NeighborWorks and the Vermont Community Development Program.

At the meeting, the Board also approved a permanent loan to the Bellows Falls Garage project and a construction loan to Parc Terrace (formerly 223 East Allen Street), which previously received federal tax credits in March.

Despite the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the project developers expressed their optimism that most of the planned construction work would proceed on schedule, with modifications made as needed to ensure socially distanced conditions.

Pictured: The future site of Bennington Family Housing. Courtesy of Shires Housing