Over $11 million of a $50 million program to pay overdue housing costs for homeowners impacted by the pandemic has been disbursed within the first six months of the program. The Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) launched the Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) in January 2022 with funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. It provides grants of up to $30,000 for income-eligible homeowners.
“We’ve paid nearly 4,000 bills on behalf of 2,000 households, stopping foreclosures, utility shut offs and tax sales for Vermonters who have been directly impacted by Covid,” explained VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins. “This was designed to be a four-year program, but we’ve paid out one-quarter of the program funding in the first six months. That shows the need in our state for this kind of help.”
HAP funding is provided as a one-time-only grant, with payments made directly to the service provider for eligible mortgage, property tax, utility or homeowner association charges. The program also provides free legal and financial counseling as well as translation assistance to eligible households. Although the vast majority of applications are submitted online directly by homeowners, about 400 have applied to the program with the help of community-based organizations across the state.
Long-time Northfield residents Mary and George Doud faced mounting overdue housing bills when the pandemic slowed their videography business. “Our business went underwater during the pandemic...This is the first time in 22 years that the property taxes went unpaid as we struggled to make mortgage and other living expenses,” Mary explained. “Receiving help through VHFA at this time was critical.”
Since January, VHFA has awarded HAP grants for residents in 250 communities across the state and in every county. The median household income of homeowners assisted is $35,000. The program is reaching Vermonters from diverse backgrounds and situations, including 211 applicants living in manufactured home communities. Eight percent of applicants identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), compared to just 3 percent of all Vermont homeowners.
HAP paid past due utility and property tax bills for Renee Gembarowski of Brattleboro. “I finally got caught up on my bills so I didn't have to think about losing my house. It was a lot of stress relief and peace of mind,” she explained.
A Vermont teacher and his family experienced an income drop due to the pandemic that forced them to dip into retirement accounts to pay living expenses. “Upon returning to full-time, our pay has not kept pace with inflation and heating expenses in Vermont are just going up,” this homeowner explained. “I do not consider myself to be a ‘low wage’ earner but what was affordable five years ago is no longer. Fortunately, HAP was able to provide a grant recently to cover the family’s overdue heating bills.”
Several residents of New Haven described how HAP helped them recover from the pandemic. “Discovering this program was HUGE. I would very likely have lost my house by now without the possibility of this support,” one homeowner remarked. “It is clear from talking to my lenders that there are many in my situation these days. I would recommend to any and all to take advantage of this VHAP opportunity…This was one of the better experiences I have had in managing this very scary time.”
Another New Haven homeowner said “I work in construction … so starting with the total shut down of construction sites things went south for us in a hurry… Without this assistance from VHFA we would have lost our home and my family would probably be scattered to the wind.”
Hannah Rose in Grand Isle is using the program to help pay overdue bills and regain financial stability. “I lost my good paying job and have had to find two jobs to try and get by. This led to falling behind in my utility bills and my mortgage,” she explained. “This assistance is amazing. I cannot even express how grateful I am to this program and the wonderful people who work here. I am now caught up with both my water and electric bills. I am waiting on the final decision regarding my back mortgage.”
VHFA remains committed to helping Vermonters stay in their homes. To learn more and apply, visit vermonthap.vhfa.org or call (833) 221-4208. The Vermont Homeowner Assistance Program is being supported, in whole or in part, by federal award number HAFP-0040 awarded to the State of Vermont by the US Department of the Treasury.
Pictured: HAP grant recipients George and Mary Doud at their home in Northfield