State funding aims to help Vermont’s affordable housing problem

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 8:26 AM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Providing adequate housing is something the state of Vermont has been wrestling with for years, but the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

“It became just a bit overwhelming to know that the need for affordable housing is greater than ever,” said Michael Monte, the CEO of the Champlain Housing Trust.

Monte says while new market-rate apartments are great and needed, they are still out of reach for many. Currently, 36% of all households in the state rent or are “cost-burdened,” according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. “The pandemic really tore open the wound that has been there for a while,” said Monte.

He says the Champlain Housing Trust saw 914 applications for affordable apartments in the first four months of the year alone for the fewer than 50 available.

And they aren’t the only ones. “What we are seeing around the state, and especially in Chittenden County, is an incredible lack of housing. There just aren’t enough houses available,” said Jess Hyman, the associate director of housing advocacy programs at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, or CVOEO. She says Chittenden County’s vacancy rate is an astonishingly low 1% to 2% across all income levels, so it isn’t a surprise that the housing that is around is expensive. She says it’s a simple case of supply and demand. “People aren’t earning enough money and that there isn’t enough housing and the housing is expensive. All of a sudden, it puts a lot of people in precarious situations.”

And the state is aware. According to Champlain Valley Housing Trust, the budget sitting on Governor Scott’s desk would pump about $190 million of both state and federal cash into affordable housing investments.

“We need more strategies, more funding, and more tools in the toolbox to build more affordable rental units and affordable homeownership units,” said Josh Hanford, Commissioner of Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. The state is planning for that, including continuing a program to renovate existing vacant housing says, resulting in hundreds of units quickly.

But Monte says the problem won’t simply disappear. “We are going to do some great stuff hopefully and hopefully so will the rest of the people in the state, but it’s still just starting, just startling how much is needed,” he said.

Hanford says the long-term solution is to build more housing that’s within reach of lower-income individuals, but in the short term, it’s about offering resources to those that need them. “To invest, to do a public-private partnership providing small incentives to private owners of this housing stock to quickly repair it, add weatherization compliments and make it available for folks in need. Another program is repurposing existing properties, think unused office buildings, or hotels or lodging establishments,” he said.

He says there are units that are popping up and are taking in new tenants, but they aren’t necessarily accessible to lower-income individuals based on the current demand.

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