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VHFA News

By: Mia Watson on 7/13/2020

Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) is pleased to announce the launch of the VHFA Housing Investment Fund with Vermont Community Foundation (VCF) as its founding investor. This will be initiated with a VCF investment of $1.5 million for a pre-development program and a long-term loan program made to developers of affordable rental housing. VHFA is working to expand the fund with investments from other community partners to grow its impact.  

“This new investment platform will innovatively leverage multiple funding sources and target assistance to communities that need it most,” remarked Vermont Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Maura Collins. “VHFA shares these goals with the Vermont Community Foundation, and we are thrilled that they have joined the fund as its first investor.”

The Vermont Community Foundation has long worked to support local initiatives, including previous investments in VHFA-supported multi-family housing. The low rates provided by the Foundation have enabled VHFA to pass on lower rates to developers, which helps keep rents affordable for low and moderate income renters. 

“We are excited to deepen our partnership with VHFA as the founding investor in the housing investment fund,” said Vermont Community Foundation Senior Philanthropic Advisor Chelsea Bardot Lewis. “This is the largest investment that we have made since the inception of our Vermont Investment Pool in 2001, and it represents our commitment to significantly increasing access to affordable housing in our state.”

The VHFA Housing Investment Fund will initially focus on the development and preservation of affordable rental housing, consisting of both short-term pre-development loans and much needed long-term fixed-rate 20- to 30-year permanent loans for projects. $500,000 in revolving pre-development loans will free up capital for affordable housing development and help projects in their critical early stages. Examples of uses for pre-development include appraisals, market studies, legal consultations, building design and environmental tests. These uses can be essential for determining the feasibility of a project, as well as ensuring that developers are in the best possible position to apply for other funding sources. The pre-development loan program will help make worthwhile yet complex projects possible.

VCF’s investment will also allow VHFA to provide developments with low-interest permanent debt for 20-30 years, helping a project remain affordable and sustainable over time. VHFA will use $1 million of VCF’s investment to leverage an estimated $25 million in various funding sources, creating 100 to 200 new homes.

In awarding these resources, VHFA will be looking for projects that serve multiple policy goals, including downtown redevelopment, historical preservation, sustainable growth, support for local businesses, energy efficiency, and serving the most vulnerable Vermonters.

This investment fund is more important than ever as Vermont begins its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Affordable housing will assist the Vermonters most likely to be impacted, as well as serving as a cornerstone for rebuilding local economies.

Pictured: Great River Terrace in Brattleboro. The affordable housing development received an acquisition bridge loan funded through a previous investment by the Vermont Community Foundation.

By: Mia Watson on 7/10/2020

Vermont’s new Mortgage Assistance Program was announced today to help low-income homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage and are facing economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will provide up to three monthly mortgage payments directly to the servicer of the mortgage with a goal of preventing future foreclosure. Administered by Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) with $5 million of the funding provided to Vermont through the federal CARES Act, the program is available to any homeowner who meets the eligibility criteria, and is not just for VHFA borrowers. 

“It’s critical that we keep moving forward and fighting this virus, and I understand recovery starts with everyone having a safe and secure place to call home,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I’m pleased to see the launch of the Mortgage Assistance Program, which will be an important resource for keeping Vermonters in their homes.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, Joy and Eryk Whitehouse of Barre learned first-hand how dependent housing is on wages. When Vermont’s “Stay Home/Stay Safe” orders were issued, the restaurant where they both worked as managers shut down and the Whitehouses temporarily lost their jobs.  

“We started frantically looking at our options as soon as the restaurant closed down,” Joy Whitehouse explained. “I have never not been able to pay my mortgage before this. Our home is the only one my children have ever known, and we were really worried about what we would do,” she continued. 

Like the Whitehouse family, it is estimated that 10% of mortgage holders have faced an economic hardship due to COVID and requested forbearance from their servicer. As of June 27, more than 44,000 Vermont workers have filed for unemployment benefits--eight times as many as in the beginning of March. 

“Vermont homeowners who were laid off or are working reduced hours may have fallen behind on monthly mortgage payments and are trying to identify their options before the foreclosure moratorium expires,” remarked Eric Hoffman, VHFA’s Manager of Business Development, who previously worked as a foreclosure intervention counselor. “The Mortgage Assistance Program will be a great way for many Vermonters to catch up and cover some of their missed payments,” Hoffman added.

Homeowners must meet certain requirements to be eligible for mortgage assistance through the program. Only mortgages for homes used as primary residences, those started before March 1, 2020 and those held by Vermonters who meet income limits and have missed at least two payments will be considered. VHFA will accept applications until August 31, 2020. Due to the limited funding available, VHFA will prioritize those with the lowest income and that are most at risk of foreclosure. There is no assurance that any individual application will be funded.

“These funds will fill an urgent need to help homeowners across the state safely stay in their homes, even if the pandemic causes them to lose income,” said Maura Collins, Vermont Housing Finance Agency’s Executive Director. “VHFA is applying the full force of its decades of experience working with mortgage servicers and homeowners to implementing this program.” 

The Mortgage Assistance Program was created by the Vermont Legislature with the passage of H.966, an act relating to COVID-19 funding and assistance for broadband, connectivity, housing and economic relief.  In addition to the Mortgage Assistance Program, the act dedicated funding for a variety of legal and counseling services, housing and facilities, eviction protection, rental assistance and other housing supports for Vermonters facing economic hardship totaling $62 million. Governor Scott signed the bill on July 2, 2020.

Mortgages eligible for assistance through the new program are not limited to those made through VHFA’s standard programs.  Information and application materials are available on VHFA’s website at www.vhfa.org/map. A Mortgage Assistance Program information hotline is open 9 am – 4 pm, Monday through Friday, at 1-800-889-2047.

By: Mia Watson on 6/23/2020

This article previously appeared as sponsored content on VTDigger. VHFA is proud to underwrite VTDigger’s independent journalism. 

COVID-19 has not changed the fact that many Vermonters still dream of owning their own home. Some want a space to call their own – like a backyard for a dog, a deck, or a garden to plant vegetables or flowers. Others may need more room for a growing family. Still others may need more space for multi-generational living arrangements.

For Vermonters who were thinking about buying a home before COVID-19, now may be a good time to move forward. Banks, credit unions and mortgage companies are accepting mortgage applications and processing loans. Sellers continue to list homes for sale, and real estate agents are showing homes using social distancing and other COVID-related precautions. Best of all, VHFA interest rates are currently at near historic lows. Low rates – plus other VHFA benefits – allow homebuyers to afford more, while keeping their monthly payment within budget.

Home prices remain high, but VHFA can help 

Home prices in Vermont tend to remain high, even during economic downturns. Case in point, between January and April of 2020, median home prices in Vermont did not fall. Instead, prices rose 4% from the prior year. This may sound like good news for Vermont homeowners, but not-so-good news for first-time homebuyers looking to get their foot in the door.

Fortunately, VHFA can help eligible homebuyers stretch their buying power with special programs*, including:

  • Near historic low, competitive rates 
  • Down payment as low as 0% 
  • Up to $5,000 closing cost and down payment assistance with VHFA ASSIST** 
  • Federal income tax credit up to $2,000 each year with a Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) 

Contact a local participating lender to get started 

All VHFA programs and benefits are available exclusively through local participating banks, credit unions and mortgage companies. Interested homebuyers can contact a participating lender to discuss their specific situation, eligibility and whether VHFA is their best option.  For homebuyers who are not quite ready to contact a lender, VHFA is here to answer questions about programs and eligibility. Please feel free to contact VHFA at (800) 339-5866 or VHFAhomeownership@vhfa.org.  

*Income and other eligibility requirements apply to all VHFA programs, please visit vhfa.org or speak with a local participating lender for more details.  **VHFA ASSIST is a 0% loan that borrowers repay only when they sell, refinance or pay off the original loan in the future. First-time homebuyer and other eligibility requirements apply.

By: Mia Watson on 6/19/2020

Research conducted by VHFA for the 2020-2025 Vermont Housing Needs Assessment reveals that Vermont’s non-White households fare worse than White households according to numerous economic and housing-related metrics. Much of the data from the report is available on VHFA’s regularly updated Vermont housing data site.

Vermont is the second-least racially diverse state in the nation, with over 96% of its households headed by someone who is White alone, according to Census Bureau estimates. Only Maine has a smaller share of non-White residents. Vermont is also ethnically homogenous, with just 1.8% of the overall population identifying as Hispanic or Latino, compared to 18% nationally. However, Vermont is slowly beginning to become more diverse, with non-White households increasing by 1.4% since 2000.

Non-White Vermonters have considerably lower household incomes than White households. The median household income for White households is $58,244, compared to $41,553 for Black households. Non-White Vermonters are more likely to have low incomes, with 57% of Black households and 51% of Asian households earning less than 80% of their area’s median income, compared to only 43% of White households.

Income directly impacts the type and quality of home that a household can afford. Vermont has a disproportionately low homeownership rate among non-White households. Vermont’s homeownership rate among White households is 72%, while Black households have a rate of just 21%. This disparity is much larger than seen nationally, where 70% of White households and 41% of Black households are homeowners.

Non-White households are more likely to have what HUD labels ‘housing problems’, which means their homes lack complete kitchen facilities or plumbing, the home is overcrowded, and/or the household is cost burdened, paying more than 30% of income towards rent, mortgage payments and utilities. While a little over one third of White Vermont households have housing problems, around half of all Black, Asian, American Indian or “other race” households have housing problems.

Vermont’s unequal housing outcomes are particularly conspicuous among its homeless population. According to the 2020 Point in Time Count, 88% of the 1,110 homeless Vermonters were White, 6% were Black, less than 1% were Asian, and 5% were another race or multiple races. Vermont’s population as a whole is just 6% non-White, making non-White individuals overrepresented among its homeless population. Black Vermonters are especially overrepresented, making up barely 1% of Vermont’s overall population.    

The roots of Vermont’s disparate housing outcomes are complex and far-reaching. With lower average incomes and wealth than White households, housing needs of non-White Vermonters are caused by decades of structural racism in national public policy, including systematized discrimination in housing, employment and education. This has led to generational wealth gaps between White and non-White households, which appear to be widening. Reversing this trend and achieving equal housing outcomes will require significant public investment, including but not limited to increasing rental and homeownership opportunities, expanded access to credit, reinforced consumer protections and rigorous enforcement of fair housing laws. 

By: Mia Watson on 6/15/2020

Newly released data from the 2020 Point-in-Time Count in January found 1,110 people experiencing homelessness in Vermont, a slight increase from the prior year. That number has increased to over 2,000 people during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness.

The Point-in-Time (PIT) Count was conducted on January 22 by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness and the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance. The annual survey attempts to count homeless individuals and families, including people in shelters, transitional housing, hotel rooms purchased using public funding or living outdoors. It does not count those at risk of homelessness or temporarily living with friends or family. Although the PIT count is the one of the best sources available, it inevitably underrepresents the total extent of homelessness in our state throughout the entire year.

Many of indicators of homelessness showed little change between 2019 and 2020.  1,110 Vermonters experienced homelessness compared to 1,089 in 2019. The number of homeless families, unsheltered people and chronically homeless people also increased slightly. There were some signs for optimism, such as decreases in the number of homeless children, veterans and households fleeing domestic violence. Chittenden County, which has the state’s largest homeless population, had a 16% decrease in the number of homeless individuals.  

The extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic will impact homelessness in Vermont is not yet fully known, as the PIT count was conducted before the outbreak reach the state. Vermont’s government officials and nonprofits acted swiftly at the beginning of the crisis to move homeless Vermonters off streets and out of congregate shelters into hotels, camp sites and vacant apartments. As of May, an estimated 1,721 individuals and 355 people in families were housed at these sites. The state and Legislature are working on a more permanent housing solution.

Despite the best efforts of Vermont officials and nonprofits, Vermont faces many challenges as it begins the recovery from the pandemic. Although weekly unemployment numbers are beginning to decline, they remain at historic high levels, and are projected to persist for years. Homelessness has typically increased during past recessions as people struggle to pay rent and mortgages. Although Vermont has enacted an eviction moratorium, it will only stay in place until 30 days after Vermont’s State of Emergency ends.

Permanently ending homelessness in Vermont will require increased investment in new affordable apartments or rental vouchers, as well as social services to support vulnerable, high-needs households.

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