Affordable housing campaign lags in Chittenden County

Published: Sep. 9, 2019 at 2:52 PM EDT
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New numbers out Monday show even with housing development happening in Chittenden County, the cost for you to rent or buy probably isn't going down.

New housing is going in right now on Market Street in South Burlington. And dozens of the units being added there are going to be affordable housing.

Still, housing groups in the area say despite that, it will likely be years before we see developments like this pay off because there's been so much pent-up demand.

Ask almost anyone who's looked for housing in Chittenden County, renting or buying, and you'll hear a similar reaction.

"I think it's pretty bad," said Nick Pizzo of Burlington.

"Shocked because it's really expensive. So I lived with my parents," said Noah Barton of Winooski.

"It's still high-priced in terms of the relative housing in the area," said Sabrina Comellas of Burlington.

And the demand for affordable housing is as strong as ever.

"We have three times-- more than three times the amount of applications than we have homes every single month," said Brenda Torpy, the CEO of the Champlain Housing Trust.

Torpy says they have a waitlist that's 850 families long. Part of the goal of the Building Homes Together Campaign, which they worked on along with other regional partners, was to help fix that and other housing cost concerns.

In the last three years, 2,300 homes were added in Chittenden County. That averages out to about 760 or so a year.

Only 280 of those were classified as "affordable" for people with low and moderate incomes. The goal was 420. So that's lagging.

And despite thousands of new single-family homes and condominium units being added, the vacancy rate still remains unchanged at 1.8 percent. The Champlain Housing Trust says 5 percent is ideal.

"At that point, you have enough competition in the market that it will help to stabilize rents," Torpy explained. "But right now rents are still going up and are very high."

Our Cat Viglienzoni asked the Champlain Housing Trust which communities are doing a good job of adding housing, and they pointed to South Burlington as a star, saying the downtown Market Street area that they're developing is exactly what the county needs. But despite more housing being added in, there's still a lot of work to do.

That's also where the Champlain Housing Trust says developments like Market Street-- or in Burlington, the upcoming Cambrian Rise-- are a model for communities in the rest of the county. To avoid sprawl and add as much housing as possible-- build up.

"To use land well, we have to build densely," Torpy said.

Renters told WCAX News the high cost of housing has forced them to make tough choices, even to leave.

"I'm actually moving out today," Pizzo said. "The big reason is because I can't really afford to live here and kind of do what I want to do."

And the ones who are staying say they just want to feel like they're getting what they're paying for.

"I have a lot of friends who pay a lot of money for very tiny spaces because, you know, there's so many students in town that somebody's going to fill it regardless of what it's priced," Comellas said.

So what's the solution? The Building Homes Campaign wants to see a few things but it basically boils down to more funding. They want to see more local housing trust funds, full funding for things like the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and more help with zoning changes and other tools that could help communities address difficulties in getting new housing built.