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By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 4/20/2020

Every other November after Election Day for the past 20 years, the Vermont Statewide Housing Conference has drawn hundreds of Vermonters interested in affordable housing together.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the outlook for large events in 2020 highly uncertain. For this reason, the multi-agency committee responsible for planning this popular conference has decided not to proceed with the conference slated for November 2020.  

The success of the Vermont Statewide Housing Conference has grown in large part from its generous sponsors and enthusiastic participants.  During the coming months, conference planners will be looking for new opportunities to celebrate and support the vital role that housing plays in ensuring the health and safety of all Vermonters. 

By: Mia Watson on 4/14/2020

Vermont has received over 71,000 unemployment claims since the coronavirus pandemic reached the state.  An economic recession is almost certainly forthcoming. This economic disruption will impact Vermont’s housing markets and households, but the full effects will depend on the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.


Vermont’s total labor force as of February was about 340,000 workers. Assuming that all recorded claims are valid, around 21% of Vermont’s workforce has been impacted by the pandemic. This is unprecedented, given that the highest annual unemployment rate experienced in Vermont in the past 44 years was nearly 9% in 1976. However, this data is difficult to compare to past economic crises, given that new categories of workers are eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time, such as self-employed workers or people who are temporarily left without childcare.  

According to Moody’s, the industries likely to suffer most in the new recession are leisure and hospitality, employment services, transportation, mining and travel arrangements. In Vermont, 12% of jobs are in the leisure and hospitality sector and another 3% are in transportation and mining. This is comparable to the 16.5% average among all U.S. metro areas. The number of Vermont jobs in the employment services and travel arrangements industries is not available but likely to be low. In past recessions, Vermont has seen lower unemployment than many parts of the county. Vermont had an unemployment rate of 6.6% in 2009, the height of the Great Recession, compared to 9.9% nationally.

Some Vermont counties may be hit harder than others. In Grand Isle, Lamoille, Orleans, Rutland, Windham and Windsor, more than 15% of the jobs are in the leisure and hospitality, transportation and mining industries. Grand Isle and Lamoille counties have nearly 30% of jobs in these higher risk sectors. Rutland County also is highly vulnerable to the current economic crisis, with 19% of its jobs in higher risk sectors. It has 4,900 jobs in these sectors—more than any county outside of Chittenden County.

Risks due to severe housing cost burden

An increase in unemployment will strain many already struggling Vermont renters and homeowners. An estimated 17,905 renter and 21,245 owners households – accounting for 16% of all Vermont households – are severely cost-burdened, paying more than half of their income towards housing expenses including rent, mortgages and utilities. This put these households at high risk for eviction or foreclosure, even before this crisis.

The rate of cost-burden increased during the last recession and will likely increase again during this period. Although legislation is being enacted to deliver unemployment payments and stimulus checks to households, payments may be slower to reach independent contractors and self-employed workers. Undocumented persons, people who work ‘under the table’ and do not report income, and other people who do not file tax returns are typically ineligible for unemployment and may be ineligible or encounter challenges qualifying to receive stimulus checks. The majority of households with non-traditional employment are lower income, putting them at higher risk for housing insecurity.

There are already signs that many households are unable to make rent payments as a result of the crisis. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, an estimated 69% of households nationally had paid their April 1st rent on time, compared to 81% in March.

Evictions and foreclosures

Foreclosures on mortgages held through ​Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Banks and USDA Rural Development will not proceed during the crisis, and homeowners through these programs may be eligible for delayed payments and other temporary assistance. While these institutions are responsible for the majority of mortgages in Vermont, any other foreclosures are unlikely to proceed due to the temporary cancelation of most court hearings.

New evictions hearings in Vermont are also temporarily halted, and the Vermont Legislature is currently considering a formal moratorium on evictions. However, there is currently no federal plan for relief for renter households once court proceedings resume and many renters may continue to struggle with rent payments.

Vermont’s housing market during recessions

Despite these concerning indicators, there is reason to believe that the impact of the virus on Vermont’s overall housing market could be relatively brief. During the last recession, Vermont median home prices decreased by just 5% before regaining their full value within five years, although some Vermont towns did experience larger drops in prices. Vermont was better off than the nation as a whole, where the median home price dropped by 19% between 2007 and 2009. The last recession originated within the housing market, exposing a pattern of risky mortgages made on over-valued properties. Although the coronavirus outbreak will cause significant economic distress, it is not specifically impacting the housing or mortgage markets in the same way the last recession did.

At the same time, the overall volume of Vermont home sales declined significantly during the last recession, and have yet to reach pre-recession numbers. Home sales may be slow to resume after the outbreak passes due to the current difficulty conducting showings and appraisals, and many prospective buyers may be less likely to purchase a home during this period of job losses and economic uncertainty. However, in 2019 Vermont saw signs of significant demand from homebuyers, with the highest number of homes sold since 2006. Any potential decrease in home construction will likely not heavily impact Vermont’s home sale numbers, as new home sales represent an extremely small percentage of Vermont’s total sales. Whether Vermont will return to its recent pattern of strong sales or will revert to its recession pattern of low volume likely depends on the duration of economic slow-down.

Strong demand and high prices will likely persist in Vermont’s rental housing market. Vermont’s average rental vacancy rate is an estimated 3.4%, with Chittenden County at an estimated 1.9%. Housing experts consider rental markets to be healthiest with a vacancy rate between 4 and 6%. Even if Vermont rental vacancy rates were to increase somewhat due to more people living with family or friends and more young people waiting to start their own households, the decrease may not be enough to impact rent levels. Vermont median rents did not decrease during the last recession.

Graph data source: VT Dept. of Labor, Covered Employment, Q3 2019. Includes Leisure & hospitality, mining, and transportation/warehouse.

By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 4/8/2020

To help re-house Vermonters in living quarters rendered unsafe by COVID-19, owners and managers of Vermont's subsidized apartments are encouraged to list all vacancies on the Vermont Housing Data website. In addition to Vermonters who find themselves in need of rental housing, HUD and FEMA both use this vacancy list to coordinate disaster recovery.

On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, Governor Phil Scott submitted a request for federal disaster declaration for the state of Vermont. The declaration will allow the state to receive federal assistance for responding to the COVID-19 disaster and provide flexibility from specific federal requirements to help those experiencing heightened risk due to the outbreak. All other New England states and the vast majority of states across the country have already received federal COVID-19 disaster declarations.

After Vermont receives the federal declaration, eligibility requirements for many publicly-subsidized apartments will be temporarily loosened so that vacant units can be used most effectively during the disaster to house those displaced from their prior living quarters by the emergency.

If you need an affordable apartment or know someone who does, learn more about particular homes for rent by visiting the vacancy list on the Vermont Housing Data website.

After vacancies are filled, owners and managers are encouraged to remove the vacancy from the Vermont Housing Data website so the list remains an accurate snapshot of available units.

If you have questions about the Vermont Housing Data website’s rental vacancy list, please contact VHFA's Robin Castine.

By: Mia Watson on 3/31/2020
The Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) Board of Commissioners announced yesterday that its annual allocation of federal housing tax credits will support the development of 130 permanently affordable apartments in five communities across the state.
“Despite the unique circumstances caused by the coronavirus outbreak, it was very important for VHFA to move ahead with the tax credit allocation,” remarked VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins. “The economic disruption that will likely result from this unprecedented event makes increasing affordable housing available for low-income Vermonters more important than ever. To that end, VHFA will help ensure that when Vermont’s development industry is fully operational again our partners will have the resources needed to move projects forward.”
Housing tax credits are the single largest source of funding for the development of affordable rental housing in Vermont. The tax credits are expected to yield an estimated $24 million in total upfront equity, which will cover an average of 62% percent of the total development costs for the upcoming projects.
For the second year in a row, every project sponsor will reserve at least 25 percent of the new tax credit apartments for homeless or-risk Vermont households, paired with supportive services offered through local providers to help them succeed.
Projects receiving federal tax credits include Bellows Falls Garage, developed by Windham & Windsor Housing Trust. The project will rehabilitate a dilapidated downtown Bellows Falls property to create a 26-unit apartment building and a small commercial space. Twenty apartments will be reserved for low and moderate income households, with five set aside for homeless households. The new building will meet or exceed Efficiency Vermont High Performance standards.
At 223 East Allen Street in Winooski, Summit Properties will develop 33 affordable apartments in a 46-unit mixed income building. As part of the project, Summit will also add nine apartments for homeless households to its portfolio, including four in the new building. The building will also contain a small commercial space suitable for a café. This project responds to the increasing need for smaller affordable apartments for one and two person households in Chittenden County, with easy access to jobs, transportation, and other amenities.
Red Clover Commons II is a joint project of Brattleboro Housing Partnerships and Housing Vermont. The new building will include 18 apartments for seniors and disabled households adjacent to existing senior housing in Brattleboro. Red Clover Commons is the final phase of a major relocation effort that began after Tropical Storm Irene severely flooded 80 apartments at Melrose Terrace, a public housing project in West Brattleboro. The new building will include apartments for homeless and at-risk households, and all residents will have access to SASH (Support and Services at Home), a care-coordination program that helps residents live safely, comfortably and independently.
At Lincoln Place in downtown Rutland, Housing Trust of Rutland County will renovate the former Immaculate Heart of Mary School to create a 19-apartment building. All apartments will serve very low income households, and each will be paired with a voucher to ensure that tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income towards rent. In addition, 10 of the apartments are reserved for formerly homeless households, with supportive services available on-site to all residents.
In Hartford, Wentworth Community Housing Phase II will offer 21 apartments in two different mixed income buildings, four of which will be reserved for homeless households. A 17-unit building will be constructed on an existing site in White River Junction, adjacent to another affordable apartment building completed in June 2019. The second building will be built in the village of Wilder and contain 4 apartments. Twin Pines Housing and Housing Vermont are the project sponsors.
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, the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program, the National Housing Trust Fund, NeighborWorks and the Vermont Community Development Program.
VHFA will review applications for permanent and construction loans at an upcoming board meeting in May. At that time, the Agency will also award federal bond tax credits and state housing tax credits loans to additional projects. These tax credit sources are commonly used for rehabilitation and renovation of existing affordable housing.
Pictured: The future Bellows Falls Garage in Bellows Falls. Photo courtesy of Windham & Windsor Housing Trust.
By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 3/26/2020

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) announced today the award of $100,000 in grants to the state’s nonprofit housing providers and public housing agencies. Another $20,000 will be donated to Vermont-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations selected by VHFA’s 38 staff members. 

“The Governor’s directive to Stay Safe and Stay Home highlights the critical role homes serve in keeping us safe and healthy.,” said Executive Director Maura Collins. “The past two weeks have presented the organizations helping to house Vermont’s most vulnerable residents with unprecedented challenges. It is our hope that the resources VHFA can deploy quickly will ease the strain of the immediate needs facing them, and protect more Vermonters by helping stabilize their housing,” Collins continued. 

The 20 organizations serve every region of the state and each provides affordable rental housing to low-income Vermonters. Each organization will immediately receive grants of $5,000 to support that work. 

VHFA’s long-standing tradition of staff engagement and charitable work prompted the Agency to set aside an additional $20,000 for donations to non-profits selected by staff. Each staff member is directing $500 of VHFA’s giving by selecting up to five Vermont-based charities working to respond to the unprecedented needs caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Staff identified a variety of local organizations, many of which are devoted to serving Vermonters experiencing homelessness, hunger and mental health challenges. "I'm consistently inspired by generosity of VHFA's staff," Collins remarked. "Selecting organizations who need help during this emergency comes naturally to them." 

The 20 organizations to receive the total of $100,000 from VHFA are:

  • Addison County Community Trust
  • Cathedral Square Corporation
  • Champlain Housing Trust
  • Downstreet Housing & Community Development
  • Housing Foundation Inc
  • Housing Trust of Rutland County
  • Lamoille Housing Partnership
  • Randolph Area Community Development Corporation
  • RuralEdge
  • Twin Pines Housing Trust
  • Windham and Windsor Housing Trust
  • Shires Housing
  • Barre Housing Authority
  • Bennington Housing Authority
  • Brattleboro Housing Partnerships
  • Burlington Housing Authority
  • Montpelier Housing Authority
  • Rutland Housing Authority
  • Springfield Housing Authority
  • Winooski Housing Authority