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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.  

By: Mia Watson on 1/21/2020

Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) has released its 2019 Annual Report. This year VHFA celebrated its 45th annniversary of financing and promoting affordable housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income Vermonters. Since it opened, the Agency has helped approximately 29,000 Vermont households with affordable mortgages and financed the development of approximately 8,800 affordable rental apartments. 

In fiscal year 2019, VHFA financed $80 million in home mortgages to help 481 households move into their own homes. 87 percent of VHFA borrowers were first-time homebuyers, and 68 percent received down payment assistance. VHFA also received an award this year for pioneering the use of state tax credits for down payment assistance at a national housing conference.

VHFA was again the single largest source of funding for affordable rental housing development in the state. Of the new rental housing that VHFA funded in FY19, the federal and state tax credits and loans awarded by the Agency supported an average of 72 percent of total project costs. VHFA awarded $33 million in tax credits and $18 million in loans to projects that created or rehabilitated 477 apartments across the state. 7,987 Vermonters currently live in apartments funded by the Agency, and VHFA staff physically inspected over 450 apartments this past year to monitor program compliance, property maintenance, and safety and affordability for residents. 

Despite these successes, there is still much work to be done. 25 percent of Vermont renters pay over half their income in rent, making it difficult to afford other basic expenses like food and transportation. A Vermont worker would need to earn $18.18 per hour to afford an average one bedroom apartment, yet the average renter earns just $13.40 per hour. Prospective homebuyers are also struggling to afford Vermont's high home prices. 60 percent of recent Vermont graduates have student loans, with an average $29,656 in debt, making it hard to save up to purchase their first homes without help. VHFA will continue to work towards a safe, decent, and affordable home for all Vermonters. 

Read the full 2019 Annual Report to learn more about VHFA's work this past year.

By: Mia Watson on 1/17/2020

Strong financial performance contributed to a rating upgrade from AA to AA+ for Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA)'s multiple purpose bonds from Fitch Ratings last week. AA+ is the second highest possible rating from Fitch. The rating applies to all outstanding long-term debt under the multiple purpose program and should help lower the cost of affordable housing financing through VHFA.

VHFA’s Executive Director Maura Collins praised the ratings change, remarking, “This announcement from Fitch reflects increasing confidence in the strength and stability of VHFA’s bond offerings, and the long-term stewardship of the agency’s financials. The upgraded rating will allow the Agency to give more Vermonters access to safe and affordable homes. ”

VHFA sells bonds to investors to raise funds for its affordable homeownership mortgage program and its loans to affordable rental housing developers. The upgraded rating will reduce the Agency’s cost to issue bonds. The savings from these reduced costs will be passed on to VHFA borrowers, allowing more resources to flow towards VHFA’s rental and homeownership programs.

The announcement from Fitch cited several factors leading to the ratings upgrade, including strengthened asset quality, strong cash flow and asset parity, continued financial strength and sound portfolio performance.

VHFA currently anticipates that its next multiple purpose bond sale will take place in February.

Pictured: Jack LeClerc, who received a VHFA mortgage with down payment assistance.  VHFA’s homeownership programs are funded through the Agency’s sale of multiple purpose bonds.

By: Maura Collins on 1/16/2020

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

As the start of the 2020 U.S. census nears, it is important to understand its immense impact on our daily lives and why an accurate count of our nation’s population is so important.

The founders of our country thought that the census was so essential that they included it in the Constitution. A census must be conducted every ten years to count each person living in the country, and congressional representation and taxes are allocated based on the results. Census counts have a significant impact on our political landscape, with the shape of congressional districts and the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state and electoral votes subject to the results.

In addition, Vermont receives over $2.5 billion each year in federal funds allocated based on census data.  With $97 million spent on housing and community development programs, other census-based federal funding pays for education, public health, infrastructure and more.

The first decennial census – so named because of its ten-year cycle - was conducted in 1790 by U.S. Marshals. It wasn’t until 1902 that the U.S. Census Bureau was created to oversee the decennial census and tabulate its data. For the 2020 census, the Census Bureau will hire almost half a million temporary workers to carry out the count. For the first time, it will allow all households to respond online or by phone, although paper forms will still be available.

Over time, the Census Bureau’s mission expanded to collect more and more information. Between 1970 and 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau used two different questionnaires: the so-called ‘long-form’ and ‘short-form’ census. In 2005, the Bureau introduced the American Community Survey (ACS) to replace the longer questionnaire and give us detailed information about our ages, incomes, family type and homes. The ACS is conducted continuously with smaller sample groups of households and new data is available every year.

The 2020 decennial census will involve a single short questionnaire consisting of just seven questions. In addition to counting the number of people, also it will ask about age, race, gender, marital status and homeownership.

Although the ACS gathers some of the same information as the census, only a small sample of people answer it, so the data it generates are estimates and not a complete count. While the Census Bureau strives to make the ACS estimates as accurate as possible, there can be large margins of error, especially in Vermont’s smaller towns and villages. The decennial census is one of few opportunities to gain basic information about every household in the country. This information is used by an enormous number of diverse groups, including government agencies, non-profits, businesses, community organizers and academic researchers.

The 2020 census has experienced unusual controversy this year due to the proposed addition of a question on citizenship status. Citizenship questions had not appeared on the short version of the decennial census questionnaire since 1950, although they are currently asked on ACS surveys. Research and test surveys conducted by the Census Bureau suggest that immigrants and people who are members of minority groups might respond incorrectly to these questions or refuse to respond the census altogether, potentially reducing participation by 9 million households. The questions have been withdrawn from the 2020 Census following a Supreme Court decision, but many advocates worry that lingering concerns about confidentiality and government use of personal data could reduce participation in the Census. 

Even without the citizenship question, surveying every American household is an immense technical challenge. Complicating matters are significant cuts in recent years to the Census Bureau’s budget and its difficulty in attracting temporary workers in an economy with low unemployment. This is of great concern to many communities, who may miss out on much-needed federal funding or may lose representation in Congress if their population is undercounted. One report found that for every person not counted by the 2020 Census, Vermont would lose $2,300 in federal funding. In response, many Vermont cities and towns are forming Complete Count Committees to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census.

The Census is essential for guaranteeing equal representation in our government. It is every Vermonter’s both right and civic responsibility to be counted.