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By: Mia Watson on 7/29/2019

In our increasing complex system of government, housing is one of few policy areas that is still largely decided at the local level. Resident input can have a significant influence on the number and types of homes that are built in a community. However, a study of local governments in Massachusetts reveals that people who participate in planning and zoning meetings often do not match the demographics of their communities as a whole. The study suggests that this lack of representation has contributed to the affordable housing crisis that America is currently facing.

The Massachusetts study, conducted by researchers from the Boston University Initiative on Cities, found that homeowners were considerably more likely to participate in housing-related meetings than renters. Meeting participants were older, were disproportionately men and were disproportionately white compared to the population of the towns that they lived in.

63 percent of meeting participants and public commenters studied opposed housing initiatives, with just 14 percent expressing support while the rest were rated as neutral. White residents were much more likely to oppose new development than other groups. Opponents of new housing often cited raise traffic, environmental and public safety concerns, while supporters highlighted housing affordability issues.

Affordable housing tended to be much more popular among actual voters than meeting participants. 56 percent of Massachusetts voters supported a statewide ballot referendum measure promoting affordable housing, and the measure received majority support in 65 percent of the communities examined in the study. However, it is important to note that voting participation itself tends to be non-representative, especially in local elections, with voters more likely to be higher-income, older and White than non-voters.

Simply put, the very people who are most likely to support and who would most benefit from affordable housing, including renter and low-income households, are missing from the debate. The authors of the Massachusetts study link this tendency to the severe lack of new housing and correspondingly high home prices in most areas of country. 

As Vermont attempts to address its own affordable housing crisis through initiatives like the Zoning for Great Neighborhoods project, its cities and towns will need to harness greater community support for regulatory and land use changes. The authors of this study urge local governments to carefully consider how much meeting participants should influence the development of housing policy and make more of an effort to engage residents who are less likely to attend meetings. At the same time, they also advise municipalities to remove at least some aspects of housing development from public meetings by expanding the types of development that are permitted by right.

By: Mia Watson on 7/25/2019

The Vermont Balance of State Continuum of Care (VT BoS CoC) is now accepting proposals for new or renewed projects to be funded by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) as part of the FFY2019 CoC Program Notice of Funding Availability. 

Projects should address local housing and services needs in the Vermont BoS CoC geographic area (all counties in Vermont, except Chittenden County), with a priority to serve vulnerable populations including individuals and families experiencing chronic homelessness, persons fleeing domestic violence, youth and young adults, families with children under 18, and veterans. Any and all eligible entities, including those that do not currently receive CoC Program funds, are encouraged to apply. There is approximately $4 million in total funding available.

Detailed instructions and application materials are available on The Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness website.  The deadline to submit proposals is Friday, August 16.

By: Mia Watson on 7/24/2019

Last week, VHFA joined Shires Housing and Housing Vermont to celebrate the long-awaited opening of Monument View Apartments in downtown Bennington. Named for its outlook over the Bennington Battle Monument, the complex includes 24 affordable one and two bedroom-apartments. The project received the majority of its funding from federal tax credits awarded by VHFA.

Despite the urgent need for affordable housing in the area, the project faced opposition from local residents who raised concerns the project would increase traffic, negatively impact the historic character of the neighborhood and strain municipal services and the local school system. Those objections were all rejected by a judge, allowing construction to begin in March 2018.

Affordable housing development often encounters these types of local opposition, but research has repeatedly shown that affordable housing does not increase crime, nor does it negatively impact local schools in any measurable way. In fact, new affordable housing development can actually increase property values in the area. Affordable housing can also easily be designed to fit the community it is built in, and Monument View consists of seven small, energy-efficient duplexes and flats in a neighborhood arrangement that smoothly blends with the surrounding structures.

Monument View Apartments will serve both low and moderate-income Vermont households. The 20 apartments directly funded by VHFA-awarded tax credits are targeted to Vermonters earning 50 to 60 percent of the area median income, or $36,800 to $44,160 for a family of four, with rents capped accordingly. In most subsidized developments, any non-tax credit-funded apartments are rented at market rate. However, due to the availability of funding from Vermont’s Housing for All Revenue Bond issued through VHFA, the remaining four apartments are available for moderate-income Vermonters earning 80-120 percent of median income, or $58,900 to $88,320 for a four-person family.

The $7.3 million project received $525,000 in federal housing tax credits awarded by VHFA.  The tax credits were purchased by TD Bank, raising an estimated total of $4.6 million in equity for construction. This project also received funding from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), the Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) HOME program.

By: Mia Watson on 7/18/2019

Two new reports show that rental housing in Vermont is unaffordable for many workers, not only for those earning minimum wage, but also for skilled middle-income workers.

Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing, the annual report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC), reveals that a Vermont worker would need to earn $18.18 per hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment. This figure is known as the Housing Wage, the hourly wage a household must earn while working full time to afford a decent apartment at fair market rent, while spending no more than 30% of their income on housing expenses. Most renters earn far less than that amount, with the average Vermont renter earning just $13.40 per hour.

Finding affordable housing is even more difficult for workers earning the minimum wage of $10.78. No Vermont county has fair market rents even for the smallest, studio apartments that are affordable for minimum wage workers. In the greater Burlington area, which has the highest housing prices in the state, a minimum wage worker would need to work nearly 64 hours per week to afford a studio apartment. 

The full data on 2019 fair market rents and Housing Wages has been added to the Community Profiles on HousingData.org, a free housing information resource managed by VHFA. The site also features a database of the state’s subsidized rental housing, which helps low-income Vermont households find apartments that they can afford.

While the affordable housing shortage hits minimum wage workers the hardest, housing affordability is a challenge for even moderate-income Vermont workers. The National Housing Conference’s (NHC) Paycheck to Paycheck report finds that wages for many jobs would not be enough to afford rent for a one bedroom apartment in the Burlington metro area, including child care workers, home health aides, security guards and bank tellers.

Many skilled workers, like carpenters, police officers, teachers, mechanics and registered nurses could afford rent for a small apartment, but would not be able to afford a larger apartment suitable for a family or down payment on a house on their incomes alone. Although many workers might be part of two-earner households, which would expand their purchasing power, the report doesn’t take in account the high cost of childcare and student loans, which can easily exceed a worker’s entire salary.

It is clear the housing market in Vermont is failing to meet to the needs of many households. One solution to this problem is more housing. Vermont’s low rate of housing development over the past two decades has led to low rental vacancy rates and low inventories of home for sale, both of which tend to drive up prices. To reverse this trend, Vermont will need to remove regulatory barriers that inhibit housing development as well as investing more resources in subsidized housing programs.


By: Mia Watson on 7/15/2019

As the Collaborative Applicant for the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance (CCHA) Continuum of Care, the Community & Economic Development Office (CEDO) is now accepting proposals for new, renewed, expanded or bonus projects to receive 2019 Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

CCHA is soliciting proposals that address housing and service priorities established through the Continuum of Care, with priority for serving homeless vulnerable populations including persons experiencing chronic homelessness, persons fleeing domestic violence, unaccompanied youth and families with children. There is approximately $1 million in funding available for projects to serve those experiencing homelessness and over $82,700 in bonus project funding.

Detailed instructions and application forms are available on CCHA's website.  The deadline to submit proposals is Friday, August 9