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VHFA News

By: Mia Watson on 2/27/2020

Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) is proud to announce that it has signed the Vermont Equal Pay Compact through the Vermont Commission on Women. The compact is a pledge by Vermont employers to show their commitment to closing the wage gap. The Vermont Commission on Women offers signers support and strategies for creating an equitable workforce.

“VHFA is excited to show its support for building fairer workplaces,” explained Steve Gronlund, VHFA’s Director of Human Resources and Administration. “Not only is it the right thing to do, it will also encourage the Agency in its ongoing effort to recruit and retain a highly qualified and motivated workforce,” Gronlund continued.

According to Census Bureau estimates, Vermont women earn a median wage of $30,142, which is 18% less than the median wage of $36,927 for men. National research has shown that the wage gap persists even when controlling for the type of work and education levels of workers. Although the gender gap has narrowed substantially since the 1980’s, little progress has been seen in closing the wage gap at the national level in the last 15 years.  

“Around five years ago, VHFA took a closer look at its pay structure.  We examined our job grades by gender and found some areas where we could make improvements.  With the full support of our Board and Executive Management, we have been making steady gains,” remarked Gronlund. “Since 2016 we have reduced the pay gap at VHFA by 7% and are fully committed to reaching 100% pay equity in the very near future.”

VHFA has implemented a number of other policies that help support women, and all its employees, including paid parental leave, telecommuting, educational assistance, an Employee Volunteer Program and generous health care coverage. 

By: Mia Watson on 2/24/2020

The median Vermont primary home sold for $229,000 in 2019, according to Property Transfer Tax records, a 6.5% increase from 2018. This is the largest single year increase in median home prices since before the Recession, and a substantial increase over recent years’ home price growth. Since 2014, Vermont median home prices have increased by an average of 2.7% per year.

Statewide, the median single family home sold for $235,000, the median condominium sold for $216,000 and the median mobile home with land sold for $95,000. The number of non-vacation homes in the state increased from 7,401 in 2018 to 7,898 in 2019. However, the total volume of home sales in Vermont has yet to reach pre-Recession levels.

The increase in home prices has been uneven across Vermont. Franklin, Grand Isle, Washington and Windsor counties experienced higher price increases than the state as a whole. Meanwhile, median home prices in Bennington and Orleans counties decreased from 2018 to 2019. However, it is important to note that county-level home prices in Vermont tend to fluctuate much more than the state as a whole. The median home price actually declined slightly in Franklin, Grand Isle, and Windsor counties between 2017 and 2018. 

County

Median 2019 home sale price

% increase from 2018

Addison County

 $ 246,500

2.7%

Bennington County

 $ 191,000

-2.1%

Caledonia County

 $ 150,000

0.7%

Chittenden County

 $ 323,955

6.6%

Essex County

 $ 115,000

2.7%

Franklin County

 $ 224,550

10.1%

Grand Isle County

 $ 255,000

13.3%

Lamoille County

 $ 228,000

6.0%

Orange County

 $ 179,475

0.3%

Orleans County

 $ 150,000

-1.6%

Rutland County

 $ 157,900

5.3%

Washington County

 $ 223,000

11.2%

Windham County

 $ 190,000

0.8%

Windsor County

 $ 200,000

10.2%

Vermont

 $ 229,000

6.5%

The large increase in Vermont home prices occurred mainly during the second half of the year. During the first six months of 2019, the median Vermont home sold for $219,500, only 2% higher than the 2018 median price. The rapid increase in home prices during the second half of 2019 was experienced across the country. Housing market analysts point to several factors causing the national jump in prices, including decreases in mortgage interest rates this summer, a strong job market and decreasing inventory of available homes, increasing competition among buyers and driving up prices.   

Despite a strong economy, high home prices continue to make it difficult for Vermonters to afford to purchase homes, particularly first-time buyers. To be able to afford the 2019 median home price of $229,000, a household would need to earn at least $65,529 per year. However, the median Vermont renter household earns just $35,759.

Vermont Housing Finance Agency’s homeownership programs can help make it easier for homebuyers to purchase, by offering low fixed rates, 0% down payment options, down payment and closing cost assistance up to $5,000 and annual federal income tax credit for borrowers when they choose a Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC). 

By: Mia Watson on 2/12/2020

VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins was recently interviewed by Anne Wallace Allen of VTDigger.  The interview discussed why housing continues to be a major challenge for Vermont, and how the state and local communities can help make housing more affordable.

Excerpts from the interview are reprinted below:

VTDigger: Why is housing such a problem in so many areas? Is it worse in Vermont?

Maura Collins: We do have our challenges. One fundamental structural problem we have in the U.S. to finding affordable housing that you’d want to live in is that we have decided that as a nation we are not going to create modest low-priced housing to own, only to rent. There is no federal program to build affordable homeownership. There are pockets of this same supply constraint happening all across the country, especially in the more urban areas.

When I go to national conferences, the decimation happening in rural America is very scary and sad. While I see problems with divestment in some of our rural communities, I don’t see it to the same extent. I can be optimistic that with investment, the little village centers, the country store, the post office, if we can hold on to some of those cherished landmarks, and ensure some kind of support for them, it gives them a fighting chance.

VTDigger: Why doesn’t the market take care of the housing problem?​

Maura Collins:  The math doesn’t work. Building housing is too expensive. Back in the 1950s and 1960s we built these modern, cheaper homes. But our expectations of what we want in a home has changed, and maybe some of us are not as willing to live in a 1,100-square-foot home. That could be one thing. 

Municipalities used to provide roads, curbs, sidewalks, wastewater, everything you need to entice the developers to come build homes in their community. That made the housing less expensive, so the sale price was lower. That doesn’t happen anymore; municipalities are more strapped financially.

Also, income inequality has grown, and therefore people can’t afford as much as they used to. Their own finances are stretched further paying for higher education, child care, transportation, health care. There is less money to spend on housing if they want to.

And we’re not using our land as efficiently as we could. Land is more expensive, and in the public process about development, something that happens more now is more neighbors look at developments and say, “I don’t want more density near me, I don’t want more homes.” We also have much higher expectations for parking requirements.

Also, construction costs are going up; labor is more expensive; materials are more expensive.

VTDigger: What can the state do?​

Maura Collins:  ​Land use is definitely No. 1. There is Act 250 compromise legislation out now that takes a lot of great steps. But it’s not just land use at the state level. A lot of local regulation and zoning impacts what we actually see happening.

There is a perception that change is bad, and growth is suspect. I see it in my community. As our town grows, residents are struggling with being thoughtful about that growth, and wanting to make sure the community we have today is not lost as changes are made and development happens. There’s a feeling that everything should go very slowly, so there’s a hesitation to throw the barn doors open and make sweeping land use changes when we don’t know how that is going to play out.

People who don’t want us to use cars really want density, they want everything to be downtown and walkable and close. We waste so much of our land on parking, and surface parking is not great for the environment. The Legislature is looking at how to force communities to reduce parking requirements if they haven’t done it already at the local level.

VTDigger: If you could change one thing to make more housing available, what would it be?

Maura Collins:  ​I would have every community in the state have a housing commission. We need a local response looking at this. It’s frustrating to me that most towns in our state have a fence surveyor and a cemetery commission and we’re planning more for the people who have deceased than the ones who would like to join our community while they are alive.

We are seeing people moving into more urban areas. That may mean there are shrinking towns that need to have a housing commission so their existing housing stock doesn’t fall into such disrepair that their community vibrancy dies along with the structures. We need to know if we’re offering rental housing in our communities or not, and what the needs are of the people living in that community, and the needs of the people who want to live in the community and can’t access it.

People are frustrated that the state is not more affordable, and yet when there are steps proposed to make housing more affordable, there is a natural resistance to that change.

When communities try to support housing that is more dense, maybe bigger buildings, people start getting very nervous about that growth. Another disconnect: People ask, “If the population isn’t growing, why would we need more housing?”

Our population doesn’t have to change in order for us to need more homes. Every year our household size is getting smaller. That puts pressure on our housing stock.

VTDigger: What will happen with housing this legislative session?​

Maura Collins:  ​I see more agreement than disagreement, though the disagreements end up in the news more.

In general, I genuinely see the administration, the Legislature, the affordable housing advocates, and the municipalities, on the same page about the problems and in many regards what should be done.

I’m really excited that housing is one of the top five or 10 issues being discussed this year.

Visit VTDigger to read the full article. 

Photo courtesy of Twin Pines Housing

By: Mia Watson on 2/11/2020

Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) is seeking feedback and comments on the Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) that guides the agency in making housing tax credit allocation decisions. The Agency has opened the initial comment period and will close the period on Friday, April 15, 2020. The current 2020-2021 QAP is available on VHFA’s website.

The Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program, which is governed by Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code, requires that each tax credit allocating agency maintain a Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) that sets eligibility and criteria for awarding state and federal tax credits to developers of affordable housing. The QAP is a compilation of IRS mandates, national best practices and state housing priorities.

In Vermont, VHFA convenes the Joint Committee on Tax Credits, which solicits public feedback, reviews the policies in the QAP and makes recommendations to the VHFA Board of Commissioners. The Board votes to adopt the plan before being sent to the Governor for approval. VHFA’s goal is to update the QAP as needed with sufficient notice that developers are able to respond accordingly and bring projects that reflect the criteria of the QAP, with a target of two years between substantial updates.

To arrive at recommendations for updates to criteria and policies in the QAP, VHFA staff facilitate public comment prior to presenting a recommended QAP. Following a review of comments, VHFA will be organizing a number of public outreach meetings around various QAP-related topics between April and July of 2020. A draft 2022-2023 QAP is expected to be available for public comment in the fall of 2020, and VHFA staff expect to make recommendations on QAP updates to the Joint Committee on Tax Credits before the end of 2020. By having the QAP approved a year in advance of 2022 applications, potential applicants will have time to consider any substantial updates in planning 2022 projects.

Comments on the QAP can be submitted via VHFA’s website. To learn more about this process, contact VHFA’s Community Development Department at developmentdept@vhfa.org or by mail at 164 Saint Paul Street, Burlington VT, 05402.

Pictured: Monument View in Bennington. The project received federal tax credits allocated by VHFA.

By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 1/24/2020

Caroline Rubin, a graduate student at University of Vermont, has been named the inaugural Vermont Housing Fellow by VHFA.  Rubin will receive a financial stipend to improve and expand information available to decision makers about Vermont housing markets and opportunities. In the process, she will gain valuable experience aiding her professional development.

“Creating this fellowship is an example of VHFA living its mission of promoting and financing affordable housing,” said VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins. “We want to invest housing resources where they are most needed and Caroline’s background positions her to make significant contributions to VHFA’s research and community development efforts. She will have the opportunity to relate knowledge gained in the classroom to practical, real-world settings.” 

Originally from Marblehead, Massachusetts, Rubin has a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Vermont and is currently completing the final semester of graduate work required for a Master of Public Administration degree.

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.  This program is a new, permanent fellowship offered by VHFA, and the Agency plans to appoint a new student to the fellowship each semester for the coming years. Candidates of color, those from outside Vermont, and historically underserved populations who are interested in affordable housing in a rural state like Vermont are encouraged to apply.

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 University of Vermont’s Public Administration program. For information about University of Vermont credits, please contact Julie Starr at jstarr2@uvm.edu.  

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