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By: Mia Watson on 11/15/2018

Over 400 housing professionals from across Vermont came together this week at the Hilton Burlington to discuss strategies to promote stable, affordable housing. The high level of attendance at the conference reflected the concern that many Vermont communities feel over the increasing cost of housing in their communities.

“This opportunity to connect and learn about new paths to addressing housing imbalances in Vermont communities could not come at a better time,” remarked Vermont Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Sarah Carpenter. “We are hearing much more frequently from our municipal partners that they are ready to look at new ways to expand housing opportunities in their jurisdictions,” she continued.

The conference offered workshops on a variety of tools for communities to use to make housing more available, safe, and affordable, such as zoning and employer assisted housing. Experts emphasized the importance of building connections between housing and schools, infrastructure, healthcare, and addiction treatment. Speaker Tiffany Manuel from Enterprise Community Partners stressed that appropriate messaging is essential to building community support for affordable housing.

“We need to think about what actually gets people to lean in rather than lean out,” said Dr. Manuel. “If we don’t build a larger story about how housing both benefits people personally and the community as a whole, they may tune out the message.”

The conference also featured keynote speaker Liz Ogbu, a designer, urbanist, and social innovator who described how emphasizing the lived experience of people at the heart of housing issues can build consensus and inclusivity in the housing development process, ultimately resulting in stronger, more sustainable communities.

“Instead of talking about the number of housing units created, we need to start talking about the number of better stories lived through our efforts,” said Ogbu.

The conference also featured interviews with policy experts at the state and national level. Erhard Mahnke of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition interviewed Stockton Williams of the National Council of State Housing Agencies and David Lipsetz of the Housing Assistance Council, who suggested that although a divided Congress can sometimes result in gridlock, housing’s bipartisan nature should provide opportunities for political cooperation.

At the state level, Rebecca Ramos of the Necrason Group interviewed Mitzi Johnson, Vermont Speaker of the House, and Katie Buckley, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. Johnson emphasized that, for the first time in a decade, the State of Vermont is not struggling to overcome a budget deficit. Buckley and Johnson agreed that this widens the possibilities for making the state more affordable for Vermonters.

In addition to highlighting community practices supporting affordable housing, the conference honored three statewide leaders for their service and achievements. Vermont State Senator and President Pro Tempore Time Ashe received the “Legislative Housing Hero” award for his strong leadership and stewardship of important housing bills, including the $37 million state housing bond and expanding the state housing tax credit for down payment assistance for first-time buyers.

Gisele Kloeckner and Hilary Melton jointly received “Innovation and Impact Housing Hero” awards for decades of service and vision for affordable housing. As Relationship Manager at TD Bank, Kloeckner personally oversaw over $400 million of credit towards the development and rehab of affordable housing, impacting over 1,000 homes. Hilary Melton received the award for her pioneering work as the Founder and Executive Director of Pathways Vermont, which brought the Housing First model of ending homelessness to Vermont. Since Pathways Vermont was formed in 2009 it has ended homelessness for 550 people.

By: Mia Watson on 11/7/2018

Residents of Hickory Street apartments in Rutland celebrated the completion of the total redevelopment of their complex at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held last week. The project, sponsored by Rutland Housing Authority and Housing Vermont, transformed a public housing development previously known as Forest Park. The project was supported by Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA), which awarded state and federal tax credits. 

Forest Park was badly in need of recapitalization after years of service. The ribbon-cutting event marks the end of the third stage of redevelopment, whose first phase began in 2010. The renovated complex incorporates 78 apartments, including both market-rate and affordable units in duplexes and larger apartment buildings. The project is intended to transform the neighborhood, adding new roads and sidewalks. The renovated complex also offers a community center and community gardens.

Phase three includes 22 apartments, 21 of which are set aside and made affordable for low-income households. The apartments will have access to services offered by Rutland Housing Authority through the SASH program and the Homeless Prevention Center (HPC), which will provide support for residents with disabilities or who are formerly homeless.

The $6 million phase three received three-quarters of its funding from VHFA, including $462,000 in federal 4% and 9% housing tax credits and $95,000 in state credits, which were sold to investors to raise an estimated total of $4.4 million in equity for construction. This project also received funding from Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing Trust Fund program, the Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP), City of Rutland revolving loan funds, and the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP).

By: Mia Watson on 11/6/2018

Last week, Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) celebrated Halloween with a staff benefit event for United Way of Northwest Vermont. During the event, VHFA was honored to receive the President’s Award in recognition for its support of United Way in 2017.

Among the Halloween festivities were trick-or-treating for children of staff and costume and pumpkin carving contests. Entry fees from the contests will be donated to United Way.

United Way CEO Jesse Bridges and Campaign Associate Henry Rabinowitz stopped by to discuss their organization’s important work in reducing substance abuse, promoting mental health, supporting families, advancing employment, and meeting basic needs in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties. They presented VHFA with the 2017 President’s Award, which is bestowed on organizations that achieve 80% employee participation in United Way fundraising and $75 per capita employee giving.

In 2017, VHFA achieved an 83.8% staff participation rate for its campaign activities and raised nearly $12,000. 2017 campaign events included a charity mini golf tournament, holiday basket raffle, and a Thanksgiving pie auction. The Halloween event kicked off VHFA’s new year of United Way fundraising, in which VHFA hopes to exceed last year’s donations.

Pictured: United Way of Northwest Vermont Campaign Associate Henry Rabinowitz, and VHFA Director of HR and Administration Steve Gronlund (in a prize-winning pig costume)


By: Mia Watson on 10/30/2018

Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) announced today the launch of a robust, free resource connecting Vermonters to information about housing vacancies and community needs. Low and moderate income Vermonters who lack adequate, stable housing they can afford suffer elevated health and safety risks. This recently reinvented resource, known as the Vermont Housing Data website, represents years of collaboration among stakeholders seeking to increase the number of stably housed Vermonters through state of the art information sharing tools.

In addition to administering its core home purchase and rental financing programs, VHFA manages the Vermont Housing Data website “because it closely aligns with our mission of promoting affordable, safe housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income Vermonters,” remarked VHFA Executive Directory Sarah Carpenter. "This initiative uses VHFA’s long-standing partnerships with rental housing managers and its housing research expertise to improve the housing situation of low and moderate income Vermonters who need help,” Carpenter continued. 

The website’s dynamic, comprehensive housing locator covers every apartment made affordable through public project-based subsides, generating a list for apartment seekers of vacant, subsidized units and a direct link to the common tenant application accepted statewide. Specialized filters now enable apartment seekers to more easily find new vacancy listings meeting their needs--critical for the many low-income renters with few housing options, especially those with physical and location limitations. 

In addition to the apartment locater, the site’s “community profiles” for every Vermont town and county help planners and decision makers more clearly assess population-level indicators and identify outcomes to address the most pressing housing needs. The profiles display data and vetted community housing needs indicators based on a variety of national and Vermont-based sources. The interactive and intuitive visualizations provide expanded filtering options and offer a wider range of information than ever before. This data is used by many different stakeholders, including municipal and regional planners, nonprofits, government agencies, and legislators. The standardized data and indicators included in the profiles are intended to improve the accuracy of local housing needs analyses to maximize the impact of public resources.

The project’s largest funding source was a Vermont Community Development planning grant from the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), in cooperation with the Village of Essex Junction, which acted as a municipal sponsor. Many local governments in Vermont rely on the community profiles for housing planning and community development.  

“We were pleased to support this improvement to the community profiles,” said Katie Buckley, Commissioner of DHCD. “It is so important that communities across Vermont have access to the latest and most reliable data, allowing them to make informed housing policy decisions.”

Initially started in 2003, the Vermont Housing Data website has served thousands of users looking for housing information, including during times of disaster. Federal and state governments have used the website to publicize listings of vacant units when emergencies such as Tropical Storm Irene destroyed hundreds of Vermont homes. The increased information now available through the site will only improve Vermont's disaster response.

The fully revamped website is the result of years of planning and support from area stakeholders, including the Vermont Community Development Program, the Vermont Association of Development and Planning Associations, AARP-Vermont, the TD Foundation and Champlain Valley’s Office of Economic Opportunity Thriving Communities initiative.


By: Mia Watson on 10/30/2018

Last week, Sarah Carpenter, Executive Director of Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA), sat down with Vermont Public Radio’s (VPR) Howard Weiss-Tisman to discuss the results of the annual VPR-Vermont PBS poll. The poll revealed that housing costs are the primary source of financial stress for Vermonters and that respondents believed that lower housing costs would make Vermont significantly more affordable.

With housing rising to the top of the list of concerns for Vermonters, the best place to learn what you can do next is the Vermont Statewide Housing Conference on November 13 and 14 at the Hilton Burlington. Topics will include employer assisted housing, zoning opportunities to promote more development of housing affordable to underserved populations, and the connections between housing, health and education. Register this week  to discover how your community can make affordable housing a reality.  Online conference registration closes this Friday, November 2.

In the poll, 606 Vermont residents were asked which regular living expense created the most financial stress in their lives. 32% of participants selected “Housing costs (e.g. rent or mortgage)” as their greatest concern, by far the most common answer.

According to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, Vermont has the fifth largest imbalance between average wages and average rents in the nation. The report estimates that for a Vermont renter to be able to afford a modest two bedroom apartment, he or she would need to earn $22.40 per hour, well above the average renter wage. Prices are high for homebuyers as well, with the average home price unaffordable for the average area resident in nearly half of Vermont towns, according to analysis from VHFA.

In the interview, Carpenter discussed a variety of strategies to make housing more affordable. One area that she noted needs more attention is housing quality, which will be covered in detail in a workshop at the conference on November 13 and 14. Vermont’s housing stock is among the oldest in the nation. Even in areas of the state where housing prices are lower, homeowners and landlords may not have the resources to maintain their homes to basic health and safety standards. Carpenter currently chairs the Rental Housing Advisory Board, which was created by the Legislature in 2018 to improve the state’s code enforcement system. Carpenter also called for renewed investment in existing subsidized housing across the state, which needs on-going support to keep apartments up to date.

Poll participants were also asked about different ways that Vermont could be made affordable for residents, including higher paying jobs and lower health care costs. 66% of respondents said that lower housing costs would “help a lot” to make Vermont more affordable, while 21% said that it would “help some”.