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By: Maura Collins on 11/13/2019

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

New estimates show fewer young Vermonters are buying homes. Vermont currently has the sixth highest homeownership rate in the nation, with 71 percent of households owning their home, but a downturn among young buyers could have lasting negative effects on Vermont’s economy.

According to 2017 Census Bureau estimates, Vermont’s homeownership rate among 25 to 34 year olds has fallen to 41 percent when it was 49 percent just a decade ago. The inability to find affordable housing during this stage of life can considerably delay purchasing a home, which delays these young Vermonters from committing to the state long term. A recent report from the Urban Institute found that young adults who lived with their parents between the ages of 25 and 34 were significantly less likely to be homeowners even 10 years later.

Homeownership is an important vehicle for households to build long-term wealth.  Home equity is the largest component of household wealth, especially for Vermonters in the lower half of the wealth scale.  In this way, homeownership is critical for retirement planning. Buying one’s first home later in life can make it challenging to pay off a mortgage before retirement when income typically falls. Deferred home purchases could have long-term economic consequences for Vermont if growing numbers of low and middle income elderly retirees lack the financial security provided by home ownership.

Homeownership builds long-term wealth in several ways. Homeownership still financially outperforms stocks and bonds. Despite recent tax law changes, homeowners also continue to receive significant tax benefits that renters do not have access to, allowing families to pass wealth to the next generation. People who become homeowners also tend to report higher levels of health, community involvement and sense of satisfaction with their lives than those who don’t.

Why are young households struggling to become homeowners? Vermonters generally have higher student and auto loan debt than most states, which can make it difficult to save enough to afford a down payment, and we know that Vermont has the 5th highest closing costs in the country. Vermont home prices have increased dramatically over the last two decades, while real wage growth for most households has been essentially stagnant. Inventories of affordable, decent quality homes are also low in many areas of the state, making buyers compete for scarce properties. 

With Vermont 25 to 34 year old households growing at a rate of just 0.1 percent per year, many policy makers have expressed concern over the prospect of young people leaving the state for other opportunities. Having adequate housing options can both help employers attract and retain workers. Owning a home makes households far less likely to move, helping to keep them closely tied to their communities and in the state long-term.

Housing impacts almost every part of our lives. A lack of affordable homeownership opportunities is already reshaping Vermont’s economy. Vermont’s future will depend on how we respond.


By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 11/4/2019

Although Vermont communities face hard work in turning the tide of rising housing affordability, consensus is growing about the most effective ways to do this.  At a recent gathering convened by Fannie Mae and the Urban Institute, business, government and non-profit leaders agreed that many of the root causes and solutions to the nation’s housing affordability crisis are tied to local action. 

The most powerful strategies available to communities seeking more balance in the affordability of their housing stock are:

  1. Work to include the views of the most affected residents.
  2. Identify and address lingering structural inequalities.  
  3. Focus on developing housing near jobs and other critical services. 

Vermont communities can learn from successes in Minneapolis about ways to broaden civic engagement to include potential beneficiaries of more affordably priced housing. An extensive study by Boston University found that people who participate in planning and zoning meetings often do not match the demographics of their communities as a whole.

Disparities in the white and black homeownership rate are a glaring symptom of long-standing structural housing market inequality.  With a black homeownership rate of only 22 percent, compared to 71 percent among white residents, learning from other states is tantamount for Vermont.  Nationally, 43 percent of black households are homeowners.

Vermont communities who join forces to develop housing near jobs and services are likely to see benefits quickly in terms of improved overall affordability, lessened commuting and invested residents. Initiatives such as the Keys to the Valley currently underway in the eastern part of the state are looking strategically about how to create and support the most needed types of homes. Similarly, the Zoning for Great Neighborhoods program will use six case study Vermont communities to demonstrate how local requirements can promote housing and walkability in downtown areas. 

By: Mia Watson on 11/1/2019

VHFA joined Lamoille Housing Partnership (LHP) and Housing Vermont last week for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Jeudevine Housing. The project involved the extensive rehabilitation of three buildings in downtown Hardwick, preserving 18 affordable apartments and a commercial business space. Jeudevine received nearly half of its funding from federal tax credits awarded by VHFA. 

Jeudevine takes its name from prominent philanthropist and politician Alden Jeudevine, who lived in Hardwick in the mid-1880s. The development includes two historic buildings and a mixed use building with commercial space on Main Street. The Main Street building was originally constructed by LHP and Housing Vermont in 1993 after a large fire destroyed part of Hardwick’s historic downtown. All three buildings received extensive structural and energy efficiency upgrades.

The buildings offer one to four-bedroom apartments, serving residents earning 50%-60% of the area median income. In addition, two of the apartments will be reserved for formerly homeless or at-risk Vermonters, and enriched with supportive services to help them succeed.

The $4.4 million project received federal housing tax credits awarded by VHFA. The tax credits were purchased by Union Bank, raising an estimated $2.2 million in equity for construction. Other funders included Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP).

VHFA also attended ribbon-cuttings last week at Taylor Street Apartments in Montpelier and Snow Block in Brattleboro. Taylor Street, built by Downstreet Housing & Community Development and Housing Vermont, created 30 apartments, including 19 affordable units, as well as a new city transit center on the ground floor. The project received federal tax credits and a permanent loan from VHFA. Snow Block is a Passive House building with 18 affordable apartments in a 23-unit mixed-income building. That project received federal tax credits awarded by VHFA.

Photo courtesy of Lamoille Housing Partnership

By: Mia Watson on 10/30/2019

VPR and Vermont PBS have released the results of the annual Vermont Rural Life Survey, which polls households from all across Vermont about life in their communities and the daily challenges they face. Vermont has the second highest percentage of its population living in rural areas in the United States. The survey revealed challenges in affording decent quality housing, as well as concerns about the future of Vermont’s rural towns and cities.

20% of respondents reported that they or a family member had had some trouble paying for their rent or house payment. This number was much higher in Chittenden County (26%) than in more rural areas of the state like Central Vermont (12%) and the Northeast Kingdom (14%). This is unsurprising, given that Chittenden County has higher home sale and rent prices than more rural parts of the state.

However, the survey also asked whether respondents could pay for an unexpected $1,000 expense. 40% reported that they would have a problem paying the full amount right away. That number was actually highest in the Northeast Kingdom and Southern Vermont, where 50% and 47% of households would struggle with an unexpected expense.   

The survey data shows that even in areas where it is more affordable to rent or buy a home, many households may still find it difficult to afford all of the expenses that come with a home, such a security deposit, high utility bill or an emergency home repair. The housing stock in more rural areas of the state tends to be older than in more urban areas. Older homes are more likely to face serious housing quality issues like inadequate heating or plumbing systems, which can be very expensive to maintain or replace.

Furthermore, Vermonters reported concern over the future of their communities. 49% said they would advise young people to leave Vermont in order to build a successful life and career. Many of Vermont’s towns and cities are attempting to attract residents and businesses by building denser, more walkable areas in existing downtowns and village centers. However, reversing long-standing demographic trends will require sustained investments in both high quality, affordable housing and job opportunities.

Despite these concerns, the survey also showed many signs for optimism for rural Vermont. 78% of respondents rated the overall quality of life in their communities as “Excellent” or “Good”, and 53% of respondents volunteered for a local charitable cause within the last year, suggesting strong community ties and a sense of belonging.

By: Mia Watson on 10/28/2019

VHFA honored Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Tom Connors and Information Technology (IT) Director Rick Jean for their many years of service as they retire from the Agency this month.

Tom Connors served as VHFA’s CFO since 2006. Prior that, he worked at Trak Sports USA and IDX. In addition to his work at VHFA, Connors has served on the Boards of the Energy Co-op of Vermont and ReSource, and has taught courses on finance and accounting at Champlain College and Community College of Vermont. He is a graduate of Saint Michael’s College and Bentley University.

From his start as Project Planner/Application Specialist in 1999, Rick Jean has led VHFA’s IT Department through countless upgrades, conversions and new releases, effectively managing his team and IT resources to meet the ever-changing needs of the Agency. Jean previously worked as the Director of IT for the American Red Cross and is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves. He is a graduate of the State University of New York (Nassau) and completed continuing education courses at the University of Vermont.

“Tom and Rick’s skills, dedication, and leadership have been essential to the Agency’s success for over a decade,” remarked VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins. “We have been incredibly lucky to have them on our staff and wish them the best as they enjoy their well-deserved retirements.”

Although VHFA will greatly miss Connors and Jean, the Agency will be in good hands under the leadership of Chris Flannery, the new CFO, and Dave Chien, the new IT Director.