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Vermont lacks housing for extremely low income households

By: Mia Watson on 3/20/2019

Nearly 90% of extremely low-income Vermont renters spend an unaffordable amount of their income on housing costs, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)’s recently released annual report The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes. The report highlights a critical shortage in the availability of affordable housing across the country.

Extremely low-income households are defined as earning less than 30% of the area median income, which works out to $17,342 in Vermont. According to NLIHC estimates, there are over 18,000 renter households earning that amount or less across the state. $17,342 is less than half of the income needed to afford a 1 bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Chittenden County. No Vermont county has market rate housing affordable for extremely low-income households.

The report estimates that for every 100 extremely low-income Vermont renters, there are only 35 apartments available that would be affordable. The NLIHC reports that very little affordable rental housing is being constructed nationally. Without public subsidies, the private market is unable to produce new apartments affordable to extremely low-income households, because the rents that they can afford to pay typically do not cover the development costs and operating expenses for the unit. The housing stock that is affordable to low-income renters is often older, and of poor quality. Substandard rental housing has been identified as a significant health and safety issue in Vermont.

The housing affordability crisis also affects some groups more severely than others. Extremely low-income renters are far more likely to be elderly or have special needs than other renters. In addition, Black, Native American, and Latino households are more likely than white households to be extremely low-income renters. Living in a safe, afford home in a high opportunity area as a child has been demonstrated to decrease health problems and increase long-term educational and economic achievement. Failing to address the housing affordability crisis perpetuates inequity in our communities.

The NLIHC report calls for permanently expanding federal support for low-income families, including increasing rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) and Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) programs, building more housing through an increase in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, and providing significant capital investment to rehabilitate and preserve existing public housing.

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I can personally attest to this. When my name was first added to a local Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher list, I was informed that the wait was two years. As the end of my two year wait grew closer, I grew excited. When the two year wait was up, I was told the wait was now four years. At that time, I was spending 70% (plus or minus a few percentage points) on rent and utilities. If it weren't for Medicaid, SNAP, LiHeap, local food shelves. and what little help a few friends could afford (the widow's mite comes to mind), I would have been in worse shape than I was, economically, physically, and emotionally.

Then, my housemate moved out, so all of my income went towards rent and some utilities. BROC came to the rescue wirh emergency fuel, but their money for this fund is running low due to the government shutdown. Evidently federal employees had to apply for heating assistance.

I am now in danger of maxing-out my credit card, which I had been using to increase my credit score so I could eventually purchase a home. Up until my housemate moved out, I was paying it off every month. Now my credit score is slipping due to charging groceries, utilities, personal needs, cat food, vet bills, an old medical bill,
etc... I am within $200 of using all the credit available on that card. I sold my car, cancelled cable tv and home internet service, etc...

While depressing, this report shows that I am one among many. That's cold comfort.

Thankfully, it's spring, which makes it easier for me to find hope huddled in a corner of Pandora's box.

Hello Patricia,

I am very sorry to hear that. Have you checked out our Directory of Affordable Rental Housing?  You can search there for affordable apartments in your area. These properties are funded by public subsidies but are separate from the Housing Choice Voucher program. Under the property listings, you can find the contact information for the manager, and can reach out to them to see if you are eligible. Even if a property doesn't have any vacancies listed, you should still ask them if anything is available or if  you can be put on a waiting list. I wish you the best of luck with your search.

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