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Vermont recognized as model for preservation of affordable rental housing

By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 11/18/2015

Housing preserved by federal and state tax credits -- awarded by VHFA – was recently highlighted as a national example of effective use of public dollars. The $12 million in equity raised by the credits, along with other efforts led by VHFA to keep apartments in the Bobbin Mill and Wharf Lane buildings near Burlington’s waterfront affordable, are the subject of a recent HUD newsletter

As HUD’s Vermont partner in financing renovations of these Burlington buildings in the early 1980s, VHFA subsequently negotiated agreements with local building owners that provided an option to purchase when they decided to sell or opt out of the affordable program.  With real estate in downtown Burlington appreciating quickly, especially near scenic Lake Champlain, these apartments were at risk of converting to market-rate units unaffordable to most low and moderate income Burlington renters. Thanks to the pro-active agreements and options VHFA  forged earlier, Burlington Housing Authority was able to purchase both complexes several years ago when the buildings' 30-year subsidy contracts ended and their owners were ready to sell.

Original building in the Bobbin Mill complex of apartments.

Vermont’s preservation successes are certainly not limited to these two Burlington locations.  Since 1988, VHFA has secured 102 agreements leading to the preservation of more than 2,000 units of affordable rental housing statewide.  In most cases, local non-profit agencies have purchased the buildings with funds in part from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board which guarantees their perpetual affordability.  Very few units have been converted to other uses—a clear testament to the effectiveness of Vermont’s approach to preserving much-needed affordable rental housing.

An additional $2.6 million from the MacArthur Foundation secured by VHFA and Vermont Housing & Conservation Board in 2008 has been of critical importance to preserving Vermont’s rental housing.  Among other things, this funding has helped to greatly improve the energy efficiency of properties undergoing renovations as they transferred ownership.  

As recently as 2011, VHFA has worked with partners to demonstrate to the Vermont legislature that a proposed Preservation Act, H.216, was unnecessary and could even be counterproductive to preservation successes so far.  VHFA continues to track privately owned projects and inform owners and managers about their rental assistance contract renewal options and the benefits of staying committed to affordable housing programs.