Editorial: Housing trust award recognizes success (Burlington Free Press)

The U.N. World Habitat Award given to the Champlain Housing Trust is a timely recognition of a worthy effort when affordable housing is such a critical issue in Vermont. The U.N. award recognizes those working for "practical and innovative solutions to current housing needs and problems."

The housing trust has been doing that for more than two decades, creating a model for keeping housing in the marketplace more affordable, a model that is being copied around the nation and the world. The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund -- first proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders when he was a member of the House -- that is part of the mortgage bailout bill signed into law Wednesday closely follows the Vermont model.

The Champlain Housing Trust is recognized as an innovator that created a way to work within the housing market to keep certain homes affordable as they pass from one owner to another.

The Champlain Housing Trust makes a down payment grant -- typically 20 percent of the sales price -- to prospective homebuyers in exchange for an agreement that when the home is sold, the seller retains only 25 percent of the increase in market value. The rest is taken off the selling price, with the new buyer agreeing to similar terms.

For example, if a $200,000 home appreciates to $300,000, it would be sold for $225,000. Any value gained from improvements to the home -- a new deck, remodeled kitchen -- goes to the seller.

The organization also helps develop new affordable housing, works with communities on affordable housing issues and offers technical assistance to housing co-ops. More than 2,100 households live in Champlain Housing Trust homes.

The program is designed to work as a hand up, allowing those who otherwise would be unable to buy their own homes to become owners. Christopher Donnelly, spokesman for Champlain Housing Trust, says a study of the first 100 homebuyers in the program showed that more than 60 percent bought their second home on the open market.

The money for the housing trust programs comes from grants, fees and rents, including from the Vermont Housing Conservation Board under its Homeland program for the down payment grants. This kind of track record says the housing trust is part of the solution to Vermont's housing problem.