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By: Mia Watson on 3/27/2019

Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA)’s HousingData.org website has recently been updated to display the latest housing data available. The data updates include the newly released 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2018 home sales data from the Vermont Department of Taxes.

The website’s Community Profiles offer data for every Vermont town and county, helping planners, nonprofits, government agencies, and elected officials identify housing needs. The profiles display data and vetted community housing indicators based on a variety of national and Vermont-based sources. The site, which has been maintained by VHFA since 2003, was overhauled this past fall to display new interactive data visualizations and offer a wider range of information than ever before.

Since the launch, several new data sets have been added to the site, including wages by occupation, median gross rent by number of bedrooms, and housing stock by number of bedrooms. The site’s affordable home price calculator, allowing users to determine affordability based on the price of the home and the household income, has also been updated. VHFA has also created several tools to compare towns and villages incomes to residents countywide and to assess town home price affordability based on county incomes. By comparing local conditions to the larger area, municipalities can more easily examine whether their housing supply fits the needs of current and potential residents.  

The site will be updated as new data is available, and new data visualizations continue to be added to the site regularly.

By: Mia Watson on 3/20/2019

Nearly 90% of extremely low-income Vermont renters spend an unaffordable amount of their income on housing costs, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)’s recently released annual report The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes. The report highlights a critical shortage in the availability of affordable housing across the country.

Extremely low-income households are defined as earning less than 30% of the area median income, which works out to $17,342 in Vermont. According to NLIHC estimates, there are over 18,000 renter households earning that amount or less across the state. $17,342 is less than half of the income needed to afford a 1 bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Chittenden County. No Vermont county has market rate housing affordable for extremely low-income households.

The report estimates that for every 100 extremely low-income Vermont renters, there are only 35 apartments available that would be affordable. The NLIHC reports that very little affordable rental housing is being constructed nationally. Without public subsidies, the private market is unable to produce new apartments affordable to extremely low-income households, because the rents that they can afford to pay typically do not cover the development costs and operating expenses for the unit. The housing stock that is affordable to low-income renters is often older, and of poor quality. Substandard rental housing has been identified as a significant health and safety issue in Vermont.

The housing affordability crisis also affects some groups more severely than others. Extremely low-income renters are far more likely to be elderly or have special needs than other renters. In addition, Black, Native American, and Latino households are more likely than white households to be extremely low-income renters. Living in a safe, afford home in a high opportunity area as a child has been demonstrated to decrease health problems and increase long-term educational and economic achievement. Failing to address the housing affordability crisis perpetuates inequity in our communities.

The NLIHC report calls for permanently expanding federal support for low-income families, including increasing rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) and Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) programs, building more housing through an increase in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, and providing significant capital investment to rehabilitate and preserve existing public housing.

By: Maura Collins on 3/14/2019

This commentary by VHFA Executive Director Maura Collins appeared recently on VTDigger

There is only so much room in our budgets for housing, heating, and transportation, and when we sit down to pay our bills it’s clear how inextricably linked each of these are.

When thinking about our budgets, too many Vermonters are faced with an affordability crisis. Volatile fossil fuel prices and old, leaky homes combine to make winters uncertain and uncomfortable.

Limited housing available downtown can drive up prices and push lower income Vermonters out to rural areas where housing seems cheaper, but longer commutes eat up any savings through more gas, costlier car maintenance, and precious time.

Climate change makes these problems worse. The dramatic freeze-thaw cycles we’ve seen this year (and that will continue as the climate destabilizes) makes car maintenance even more expensive. Bigger, more frequent potholes and more days of salting icy roads take their toll on Vermonters’ cars.

And Vermonters can’t afford it. They can’t afford homes damaged by worsening storms and big temperature swings. They can’t afford running inefficient air conditioners in poorly insulated homes when we deal with record hot temperatures (I know it seems impossible this winter, but they will come!).

Vermont Housing Finance Agency is focused on affordable, safe and decent housing. And we know that making energy more renewable, efficient, and cost effective can help make housing more secure for Vermonters. The costs of home energy and transportation along with mortgage payments (or rent), home insurance and taxes are part of every Vermonter’s monthly expenses.  By reducing the total burden of these costs, we can improve the long-term affordability of living in Vermont, and stabilize the economy.

The report published this week by the Energy Action Network (EAN) is a call to action. EAN’s 2018 Annual Progress Report focuses both on the cost of the status quo for Vermonters as well as the benefits if we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce emissions through steps such as increased home weatherization.

EAN’s report models the scale of transformation necessary to reach Vermont’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement by 2025. One third of all homeowners would need to switch from propane or fuel-oil heating systems to renewable options like advanced wood heating (pellet stoves and boilers) and cold climate heat pumps over the next six years.

This isn’t just about emissions. Our reliance on fossil fuels cost Vermonters $240 million more in 2018 than if we had been heating our homes and businesses renewably.

Worse, of that $240 million, over $185 million left the Vermont economy entirely, since about 78 cents of every dollar spent on fossil fuels leaves Vermont and goes to other states and countries. I’d much rather invest those dollars in Vermont businesses and families.

It’s not just how we fuel these homes, but also where that fuel goes: out the windows or staying in the home. EAN also models the impact of weatherizing an additional 90,000 buildings over the next six years. The report cites the Vermont Department of Health’s finding that the 10-year savings from weatherization is nearly three times greater than the initial investment, thanks to both health and fuel savings.

When Vermont Housing Finance Agency funds affordable apartments, we require high energy efficiency standards. We give priority to applications that are efficiently located near jobs and services in downtowns and village centers with access to public transportation. VHFA also prioritizes buildings that meet Passive Housing or Net Zero construction standards.

In doing this we recognize that housing needs to be affordable for the life of the home. Our residents deserve it.

The EAN Progress Report is a must-read for anyone who is thinking about how energy impacts our economy, our health, and our climate. I look forward to more informed conversations about why and how we need to accelerate efficient renewable energy adoption for the sake of all Vermonters.


By: Mia Watson on 3/11/2019

More than one in three Vermont households live in homes that consume unsustainably high portions of their income, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. A new report from the Urban Institute proposes solutions to grow and preserve the nation’s affordable housing stock, some of which are already being implemented across Vermont.

The affordable housing crisis that our country faces was precipitated by insufficient construction of new homes over the last several decades, according to the report. It encourages communities to revise overly restrictive zoning regulations so that developers can produce more housing at a lower cost. To that end, VHFA has joined the Thriving Communities campaign, a Vermont initiative to provide business leaders, public officials, local and regional planners, and developers with the tools to promote affordable housing in their communities. VHFA also offers tools for communities on its Vermont Housing Data website and directly supports the construction of new homes by awarding tax credits and loans for affordable housing.

The report also highlights the importance of preserving existing affordable homes, particularly those that are not subsidized and are at risk of rising rents or displacement by new development. A major roadblock to preserving the supply of naturally occurring affordable housing is a lack of records indicating where this stock is located. The State of Vermont’s Rental Housing Advisory Board has recommended considering a rental registry to help address health and safety violations. Access to this information would help Vermont towns identify the rental housing within their boundaries, which would allow them act proactively to protect it.     

To improve affordability of the existing housing stock, the Urban Institute calls for a substantial expansion of housing assistance for low-income renters. In Vermont, most low-income households do not live in subsidized apartments or receive vouchers and must pay market rates. The median rent is unaffordable to minimum wage workers in every Vermont county. The report suggests initiatives including tax credits for renters and supplements to the earned income tax credit to reflect local housing costs.

Finally, the report calls on communities to expand access to homeownership, which not only supports households’ economic security and well-being, but also helps families build long-term wealth. Homeownership has been difficult to achieve for many groups in the wake of the Great Recession, especially Millennials and people of color. The homeownership rate for Black Vermonters is just 22 percent, compared to 71 percent of White households. The Urban Institute recommends developing novel methods for homeownership that can open the door to those previously shut out. The report highlights Champlain Housing Trust’s shared equity homeownership model as a model for allowing low-income households to buy homes without excessive debt, while keeping the unit permanently affordable. The report also argues for more inclusive lending practices that lower the barriers for first-time homebuyers with limited incomes or imperfect credit histories. VHFA’s homeownership programs offer down payment assistance to eligible low and moderate income households, helping them purchase their first home with less financial strain.

For all of these initiatives, the Urban Institute emphasizes the importance of access to strong research and data so that housing advocates can effectively argue their case to their communities. VHFA operates HousingData.org, which includes a directory of subsidized rental housing in Vermont, a toolbox of housing policy resources, and community profiles with housing-related data at the state, county, and local level.

Pictured: Roaring Branch Apartments in Bennington

By: Leslie Black-Plumeau on 3/7/2019

With town meeting day behind us and many new faces elected to local office across the state, this post shares a few key housing resources for towns.  

A growing number of Vermont communities seeking economic and community vibrancy through housing have taken foundational steps of conducting local needs assessments and appointing housing commissions.  These commissions are typically charged with recommending policy changes that will ensure the local housing stock offers options affordable at a range of income levels.

In addition to assessing their uniquely local conditions, Vermont towns face many common housing problems and can learn a lot from the successes reaped elsewhere. The substantial impact of local regulations and other municipal activities on housing supply and affordability is gaining more attention as experts look for new ways to move the needle on the nation’s ongoing housing affordability problems. This recent Strong Towns post highlights ways towns can make a difference without spending a dime.

One way VHFA supports Vermont’s towns is by providing community profiles containing the latest data and indicators of housing need to enable fact-based local decision making. We also provide check lists of tools for addressing housing needs and examples in Vermont and other states of towns that have used specific approaches.