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By: Mia Watson on 1/2/2020

The State of Vermont’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is inviting the public to attend a series of community outreach meetings around the state to inform its upcoming HUD Consolidated Plan.  

The 5-year HUD Consolidated Plan outlines priorities for over $10 million in funding that Vermont will use for affordable housing and community development from 2020 through 2024. The meetings will allow the public to share their thoughts on local needs for public facilities, job creation, housing and homelessness, which will be incorporated into the plan. 

Meeting schedule:

  • Milton
    • January 23, 2020 from 5:00-7:00 pm
    • Location: Milton Fire Station Community Room, 47 Bombardier Road
  • St. Johnsbury
    • February 19, 2020 from 5:00-7:00 pm
    • Location: St. Johnsbury Welcome Center, 51 Depot Square
  • Castleton
    • February 4, 2020 from 5:00-7:00 pm
    • Castleton Fire Station Community Room, 263 Rte. 30 North
  • Springfield
    • March 9, 2020 from 1:00-3:00 pm
    • Springfield Cinemas 3, 26 Main Street 

DHCD also has an online public survey to receive feedback. DHCD encourages everyone to complete this survey, regardless of whether you are able to attend a public meeting. 

By: Mia Watson on 12/19/2019

VHFA celebrated Brenda Howley for her many years of service as she retires from the Agency this month.

Brenda Howley served as VHFA’s Legal Coordinator since 2011. She worked with VHFA’s General Counsel to oversee VHFA’s corporate records, loan closings, Agency bond issuances, and coordinated meetings of VHFA’s Board of Commissioners. Prior to coming to VHFA, she worked at several local law firms. She is a graduate of Champlain College.

 “Brenda’s attention to detail, organizational skills, and dedication to her work have helped the Agency run smoothly for nearly a decade,” remarked VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins. “We are excited for her as she pursues new opportunities during her well-deserved retirement.”

Howley is the Director of US Maher Friends, a non-profit organization devoted to raising funding for shelters and homes for women, children and disabled individuals in India. She is also a member of Dragonheart Vermont, a dragon boat paddling group that supports breast cancer survivors. Howley hopes to devote more of her time to these organizations during her retirement.

Pictured (from left): George Demas, Brenda Howley, Maura Collins

By: Maura Collins on 12/17/2019

This commentary by VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins appeared recently in VTDigger

Housing affordability can’t be judged just on how much it costs to rent or buy a home. Although those indicators are important, the total costs of housing, both for households and the community, depend heavily on where the home is located.

Vermonters who live closer to downtown areas incur fewer costs traveling to schools, jobs and amenities. These areas often have greater walkability and access to public transportation and require shorter drive times to destinations. In addition, compact development benefits the local economy, placing customers in close proximity to businesses. Downtowns are particularly attractive to millennials, 62% of whom wish to live in walkable communities that have short commutes. Most seniors over the age of 60 also think mixed-use neighborhoods with homes, shops and business are the ideal place to live, according to TransitCenter.

A survey from the National Association of Realtors found that convenience to jobs and home affordability were among the top factors affecting location choice among homebuyers. However, Vermont’s high rents and home prices have pushed many households farther and farther away from the areas where most jobs are located. Between 2009 and 2017, the number of Vermonters commuting 30 minutes or longer from their home to work rose by 6,000 while the total number of workers stayed constant. That means 32% of Vermonters now travel more than an hour to get to and from work.

Less expensive housing in more rural areas can have hidden costs. Long commutes mean workers spend more on gas and car maintenance, especially in the more rural areas that tend to lack robust public transportation networks. The median single family home in Burlington sold for $315,000 in 2018, while the median home in Georgia, Vermont sold for $280,000. However, assuming that households in both areas work in the Burlington area, a worker living in Georgia would spend up to $5,300 more every year in expenses associated with commuting. These costs add up considerably over time, especially in two-car households.

Long commutes have a number of other harmful side effects. They negatively impact workers’ mental health and workplace productivity, as well as leaving less time for families and community involvement. Increased commuting time also harms our environment, with increased wear on roadways, higher emissions and more fossil fuel consumption.

Housing development in rural areas far from jobs and other destinations also has significant consequences for municipalities. It costs far more to pave and maintain roads, connect sewer lines and provide emergency services to homes spread apart on large lots than clustered in downtown areas. Some surveys have estimated that suburban development costs up to 38% more in up-front infrastructure costs and 10% more in service delivery costs than compact downtown development. Furthermore, compact development produces on average about 10 times more tax revenue per acre than suburban development.

Rural areas of Vermont need investment and should not be abandoned for ever-growing cities. Rather, when new housing is being planned anywhere in the state, the real costs of its location must be considered, both to households and to our communities. In recognition of these issues, there is a growing movement among Vermont planners for sustainable growth that allows more walkability and minimizes driving time while protecting working lands and wildlife habitats. 

Centering the development of new Vermont homes in towns and neighborhoods near jobs and services achieves many public goals. Our downtowns are nurtured, rural and forested parts of the state preserved, and more Vermonters have an affordable, transportation-efficient lifestyle.  However, making smart growth possible would take commitment at all levels:

  • The state would need to expand public transportation networks and offer more incentives for downtown commercial and housing construction.
  • Larger regional employers could work with communities to welcome smart residential development and revitalization that supports the workforce.
  • Vermont towns might have to adjust their zoning codes to facilitate compact development and invest in safe streets and other infrastructure.

A home’s true affordability depends on the inherent costs its residents face traveling to everyday destinations. By considering this in our personal and policy decisions, Vermonters can take a big step closer to economic and environmental sustainability.

By: Mia Watson on 12/13/2019

Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) is seeking a Legal Coordinator. This position assists the Agency's General Counsel in providing legal advice and performing legal functions, including oversight of corporate records management, program and procedure compilation, the closing of multifamily mortgage loans and Agency bond issuances, and the coordination of VHFA Board meetings. 

VHFA is looking for an individual with excellent organizational and analytical skills, high attention to detail, and excellent written and verbal communication skills, who demonstrates a strong work ethic, puts customers first, and works well both independently and as a team player.

Named a “Best Small/Medium Place to Work in Vermont” several times by Vermont Business Magazine, VHFA offers a competitive salary and an excellent benefits package.  For a detailed job description and benefits overview, visit www.vhfa.org/careers.

To apply, send cover letter (required), resume, salary requirements and references to the Human Resources Department at HR@vhfa.org by Monday, December 30, 2019.

VHFA is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to a diverse workplace. We highly encourage women, persons with disabilities, and people from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to apply.

By: Mia Watson on 12/5/2019
Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) worked with local financial institutions to fund affordable homes that will be sold to low- and moderate-income Vermonters. Passumpsic Bank, Mascoma Bank, Union Mutual Insurance, Community National Bank, and Union Bank invested in Vermont Affordable Housing Tax Credits available through VHFA.
Vermont Affordable Housing Tax Credits provide funding for rental housing development and affordable homeownership opportunities. This year, the State increased funding for the credits by $250,000. These state tax credits are awarded by VHFA along with federal tax credits and loans to developers. These credits are then sold to investors to raise the start-up capital needed for housing development. The state homeownership credits were purchased by Passumpsic Bank, Mascoma Bank, Union Mutual Insurance and Community National Bank. Together, the sale of the credits has raised roughly $2.5 million for affordable housing. 
An additional investment by Union Bank will fund VHFA’s Down Payment Assistance program. This is the sixth straight year that Union Bank has purchased these credits. VHFA’s Down Payment Assistance program helps first-time homebuyers purchase a home in Vermont. Historically, VHFA has sold credits directly to investors to raise money for the program. This year, for the first time, VHFA also sold homeownership tax credits on behalf of a group of affordable housing developers, including Champlain Housing Trust, Twin Pines Housing and NeighborWorks of Western Vermont. This bulk sale made it easier to find investors for the credits, and benefited from VHFA’s expertise in navigating the tax credit market. 
State housing tax credits are a sound financial instrument for institutions and they are also an important investment in Vermont communities, which have an urgent need for more affordable housing. The median Vermont home sold for $215,000 in 2018, which would be affordable for a household with an annual income of $61,523 per year. However, the median Vermont renter household earns just $33,949.
Projects funded by this investment include affordable townhomes at Safford Commons in Woodstock developed by Twin Pines Housing. NeighborWorks of Western Vermont will use the funds on a pilot project to rehabilitate older homes in Arlington. Champlain Housing Trust plans to use the funds on several projects, including a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity in Milton. All of these homes will be sold to low- and moderate-income families. In exchange for reduced purchase prices, homebuyers agree to perpetual affordability for future buyers.
Pictured: Safford Commons. New homes for homebuyers will be built in the Safford Commons neighborhood, which currently offers affordable apartments for rent. Photo courtesy of Twin Pines Housing.