Confronting Vermont's Affordable Housing Shortage

Bernie Buzz Original Article

Affordable housing is a real issue for Vermonters. Not only is the number of available housing units in short supply, but many of the fastest growing jobs in Vermont don't pay enough to allow people to afford much of the existing housing stock.

Some progress is being made. Thirty new units of affordable housing are being built in Chittenden County. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who secured a portion of the funding, attended a groundbreaking on Monday at the site that will house 30 families in Essex, Vt.

housing"At a time when many Vermonters are struggling economically, when affordable housing is very hard to come by in this part of the state and when many low- and moderate-income people are spending 50 percent of more of their limited income on housing, this project is sorely needed and I'm very excited to see it built," Sanders said, as crews worked on the new 30-unit Cedars' Edge Apartments.

The three-story building will include 30 apartments - 24 two-bedroom and six one-bedroom units. Tenants will pay only electricity, phone and cable. Heat and hot water will be included in the rents. The $5.5 million project is slated to be complete by next summer.

"We have a real crisis in housing. We're happy to see this project under way, but have much more work to do," Sanders said.

An estimated 5,000 rental units and 8,000 owner homes must be constructed between 2009 and 2014 to accommodate new households and replace units aging out of the stock, according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. This would require doubling the current rate of construction activity in the state.

"Part of our issue is definitely supply," Brenda Torpy, CEO for Champlain Housing Trust, told the Bernie Buzz.  "However, when you look at what people can afford in the fastest growing jobs in the state, it wouldn't be sufficient unless it's designed to be affordable to working people in Vermont."

Torpy encouraged the construction of new housing, but added, "let us also be sure that the price is within the reach of working people in Vermont."

As the Bernie Buzz reported last month, the occupations projected to have the most growth in Vermont during the next eight years earn relatively low wages.  That means Vermonters will continue to have difficulty paying the rent.

The most annual openings in Vermont through 2018 will be for cashiers, home care aides and retail sales, according to Labor Department projections. The problem: the median income for those three fields is $18,730, $21,130 and $22,840, respectively.

RISING RENT

Earlier this year, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit in Vermont was $920, an increase of 54 percent since 2000, according to the most recent study of housing and wages by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. 

The state's "housing wage" - the amount a household must earn to afford a modest two-bedroom home and only pay 30 percent of the their income for rent and utilities - is $17.70 an hour, or $36,800 a year. In Chittenden County, the amount needed to afford that same two-bedroom apartment was even higher: $21.46 an hour, or a combined household income of $44,600 a year.

"Despite a severe recession, the cost of renting housing in Vermont is rising," according to the study, titled, "Between a Rock and Hard Place."

housingSanders worked with the Champlain Housing Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to secure funding for affording housing in Essex, among other housing projects in Vermont.

The Essex housing project will mix families of different incomes effectively, Sanders noted. "It will house families of different incomes in the same location - rather than concentrating and isolating low-income people," he said.

Essex Junction, Vt.-based Snyder Homes is building the highly-energy efficient apartments and will sell them to the Champlain Housing Trust and Housing Vermont, who have partnered to assemble a financing package that will make the apartments affordable.  The project, which is estimated to create 37 construction jobs and nine permanent positions, is funded in part with a $243,500 federal grant secured by Sanders. 

To read about the affordable housing project in the Burlington Free Press, click here.

To watch a video from the groundbreaking, click here

To read a fact sheet about this project, click here.