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Renters Struggle To Afford Steep Housing Costs, Report Finds

Posted May 26, 2015

Over the weekend Vermont Public Radio spoke with our coordinator Erhard Mahnke to discuss the Out of Reach Report and the struggle to find affordable housing in Vermont:

Andrea Craft is looking for a new place to live. But she’s not having much luck.

“Most of the time I don’t even really get the chance to apply for the apartment because people won’t respond to my attempts to contact them,” she says.

A few things about Craft. One: She’s a college student. Two: She’s a single mom. Three: She receives rental assistance in the form of a Section 8 voucher.

She says when landlords learn those last two facts, they stop returning her calls.

“I have in the past actually created another email address and made up a story like, ‘Oh, I’m a college student looking for an apartment,'” remembers Craft. “And they respond immediately.”

She says this has happened five or six times. Craft is currently looking for a two-bedroom apartment to share with her four-year-old daughter. As a student at Champlain College, she’s lived in Burlington. But she say’s she’s open to looking for a home farther from the city.

A new report titled “Out of Reach 2015,” finds that many other Vermonters are also struggling to find affordable rental housing.

The state was ranked as the 13th most expensive in the country. The report estimated a Fair Market Rent of $1,075 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Erhard Mahnke is the coordinator of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, the group that released the report locally.

He says that figure is based on a modest apartment in an older building. He points out that many new apartments are priced much higher, particularly in Burlington.

“Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in a newly constructed development in and around Burlington is about $1,900,” he says.

He says those new developments can affect housing costs in nearby areas.

“They have a tendency to set the market-wide rent as what is affordable,” Manhnke says. “That’s one of the reasons why there’s some concern among affordable housing advocates that if there’s a lot of new, market-rate construction, and it all comes in at this $1,900 average, that’s going to set the standard for the entire market.”

The report also looked at how much a family must earn, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to be able to afford the rent and utilities in the private housing market.

“It’s an affordability crisis. I think it’s driving our homeless numbers.” – Erhard Mahnke, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition
In Vermont, that’s an average of a little over $20 per hour, or over $43,000 per year.

Vermont’s minimum wage is $9.15 an hour. That means 2.3 minimum wage workers in the household would need to work full time. One minimum wage worker would need to clock 90 hours per week.

That means many Vermonters pay a disproportionate share of their income toward rent.

Mahnke says that puts Vermonters in a dangerous situation.

“I think it means more families in crisis in the state of Vermont,” he says. “It’s an affordability crisis. I think it’s driving our homeless numbers.”

And housing assistance like the kind Andrea Craft receives is at a premium in the state, often with long waiting lists.

Mahnke says greater investments in affordable housing are needed at both the federal and state levels.

Nationally, the report found that no renter working full-time at minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

VTOOR

To view the full article, including audio, click here. To read more about the 2015 Out of Reach Report, click here.

 



Morningside Shelter and Brattleboro Area Drop In Center Merge to Form Groundworks Collaborative

Posted

Before a crowd of roughly 100 people gathered in the Brooks House atrium on Friday morning, Morningside Shelter and the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center publicly announced that they are merging to form a single organization under a new name: Groundworks Collaborative.

The Boards of Directors formally agreed to the merger at a joint board meeting on Tuesday, May 19. The organization will be fully functional under the new name as of the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2015; at that time Groundworks Collaborative will step into FY ’16 with a nearly $1 million budget. No staffing changes are planned at this time, as the organization is focused on maintaining all services currently provided by the two former organizations. However, growth is on the horizon for the new organization, which is currently finalizing its strategic plan for the next three years.

Groundworks’ Board President, Carla Lineback addressed the gathering, explaining that the unanimous decision to merge has come after a three-year process of working in collaboration to achieve improved services for clients of the two organizations. She described the journey, which has led the two Boards of Directors to hold joint Board meetings for the last five months in preparation for the merger. Lineback introduced Lucie Fortier (former Executive Director of the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, and the new Associate Director of Groundworks Collaborative) and Josh Davis (former Executive Director of Morningside Shelter, and the new Executive Director of Groundworks Collaborative) and invited them both to speak about what each organization does, because she often hears people say, “I didn’t know you did all that!”

Fortier spoke about the growing numbers of Brattleboro area households utilizing both the Food Shelf and the Seasonal Emergency Shelter. She confirmed that the merger would strengthen client service by reducing gaps and streamlining services.

Davis reiterated the improved services, stating that, when these two organizations come together, “One plus one can really make three or more.” Davis thanked the staff of both organizations, saying, “The staff are just incredible and have been so supportive of this process.” Additionally, Davis had the honor of unveiling the name, Groundworks Collaborative, and the logo that will identify the new organization.

One of four guest speakers was Paul Dragon, Chief Administrator of the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, who quoted a compelling point outlined in Groundworks’ draft strategic plan that there is “consensus between clients, staff, and the community,” that the merger will improve services for the greater Brattleboro area. Dragon, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer having served in the west African nation of Mali, related stories of malnourished children and wells that had gone into disrepair, where a lack of coordinated efforts kept families in poverty with little change in their standard of living. “I believe the exact opposite will be true for Groundworks,” said Dragon, who reported he sees Groundworks as a visionary organization, well on its way to solving the problem of homelessness in this community.

Whitney Nichols, a former client of both organizations, and former member of the Drop In Center’s Board of Directors, told his story of being homeless while struggling with mental health and alcoholism. He spoke of the challenges he faced prior to finding affordable housing with the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, and how pleased he is to see these two organizations come together to reduce gaps in services.

Connie Snow, Executive Director of the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, an organization having recently completed a merger in 2011, reminded the leadership of Groundworks Collaborative that what matters most is not how big or small an organization is, but the focus on the mission and providing the highest level of service possible for the community.

Kate Ash, a Field Representative from Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, also addressed the attendees. She emphasized the work Senator Leahy has done for the past forty years to fight for the needs and well being of low-income Vermonters.

Davis fielded questions – including discussion of plans to seek an additional location to provide adequate space and improve services. Groundworks continues to work to find a permanent location for the seasonal emergency shelter, which will open again this coming November.

Davis also reminded all present that the third annual Camp for a Common Cause, a joint-fundraiser the two organizations have partnered to put on for the last two years, will take place this Friday, May 29th on the Brattleboro Common, and will double as a public celebration of the merger. The entire community is welcome and encouraged to attend.

MergerAnnouncementBrooksHouse

Photo credit: Jeff Woodward, Woodward Photography

 



Mayor’s Plan to Build More Is Questioned at Housing Summit

Posted May 22, 2015

Below is a report from Alicia Freese at Seven Days from the housing summit that took place this past Wednesday in Burlington. For a link to the full article, click here.

People who arrived at the housing summit with concerns about unbridled development probably didn’t leave feeling any less worried.

The keynote speaker, Tom Angotti, a professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College, came bearing stories of gentrification and development gone awry in New York City.

“We’re seeing that happen here,” a woman in the audience told Angotti. “So what do we do?”

“Three suggestions,” offered the visiting professor: “Organize, organize, organize.”

Burlington residents have been doing plenty of that already. Members of Save Open Space Burlington, which formed when Burlington College was selling a large tract of lakefront land to developer Eric Farrell, have joined forces with people concerned that putting housing in the South End’s Enterprise Zone will squeeze out artists and business owners.

Both groups came together to plan Wednesday’s event, along with members of the neighborhood planning assemblies. Held at Contois Auditorium in Burlington City Hall, it was billed as a response to Mayor Weinberger’s 18-point housing action plan.

In a plan presented to the city council last month, the mayor offered a number of strategies to fix what he’s termed a housing crisis. He’s repeatedly made the case that a severe shortage of housing has made rent and home prices untenably high for many. This issue dominated the mayoral election last March. Key to the solution, according to the mayor’s plan: constructing more units.

But Wednesday night, people pushed back. “New market-rate housing raises rents,” Angotti argued. “And that forces out people who operate at the margin.”

“Do we have any idea how many units will have to be built to bring down rents?” asked Charles Norris Brown, one of the organizers in the South End. He suggested that the city’s “obsession with housing” may “kill the creativity” in the South End.”

At least eight of the 12 city councilors attended. The body agreed to postpone a vote on the mayor’s housing plan until after the summit. Weinberger didn’t come, though his housing point person, Brian Lowe, was there.

Attendees weren’t totally opposed to new housing. People plugged construction of “tiny houses” — a suggestion also included in the mayor’s plan. Ruby Perry, a member of Save Open Space Burlington who lives in one of these houses, told the audience that, particularly in light of climate change, it’s important to “live lightly and to build lightly on the earth.”

To expand the stock of student housing, Charles Simpson suggested developing cooperative housing instead of allowing “circling sharks of opportunistic investors” construct large, profit-generating dorm structures.

At the very end of the meeting, Michael Monte, chief financial officer for the Champlain Housing Trust, which builds and manages a large number of affordable housing apartments in the region, stood up in the audience and attested to the dire need for housing. “There’s a real crisis in Burlington and Chittenden County,” Monte said, choking up. Referring to the homeless population, he added, “They’re living close to the earth, but they don’t want to be there.”

 



HomeShare Vermont Releases Outcomes Survey

Posted

Recent surveys show that those who found housing through HomeShare Vermont are paying an average rent of $206 per month. Twenty-five percent of participants reported paying no rent in a complete exchange of service for housing. As a result of finding housing through HomeShare Vermont, 60% of participants estimated a savings of at least $400 per month in housing costs.

Surveys also show that those sharing their homes benefit from improved quality of life with the majority of participants feeling safer at home (82%), less lonely (74%), happier (70%) and healthier (50%) as a result of being matched with a house mate through HomeShare Vermont. Additionally, more than one-quarter of those sharing their homes felt they would not be able to live at home safely and comfortably without a home sharer.

These results come from outcomes surveys which HomeShare Vermont has been conducting since 2001. Over the last fourteen years, they have administered 8 surveys and the findings have consistently shown financial and health benefits for program participants.

HomeShare Vermont has over 30 years of experience providing comprehensive screening and matching services to introduce people looking for housing with those who have homes to share. Homeowners are often elderly and need some assistance in order to remain living at home, but there are no age or income requirements to participate. Each home sharing “match” is unique depending on the needs and offerings of the participants. It’s all about people helping each other.

To learn more about HomeShare Vermont, join them for a free, 30-minute informational meeting on Monday, June 8 at noon at their office located at 412 Farrell Street in South Burlington. Please pre-register by calling 802-863-5625.

HomeShare Vermont is a member agency of the United Way of Chittenden County serving Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties. For more information visit www.HomeShareVermont.org.

 



Annual Report Finds Vermont Rents Continue to Climb Out of Reach

Posted May 19, 2015

Burlington, VT – In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in Vermont, renters need to earn $20.68 per hour, or $43,017 a year. This is Vermont’s 2015 Housing Wage, revealed in a report released today. The report, Out of Reach 2015, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, DC-based research and advocacy organization, and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.

The Housing Wage is the hourly wage a family must earn, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to be able to afford the rent and utilities for a safe and modest home in the private housing market.

“Rents in Vermont continue to rise every year, making it harder and harder for low wage, service sector workers and people living on fixed incomes to get by,” said Erhard Mahnke, Coordinator for the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. “With a Housing Wage of over $20 an hour for the first time, ordinary Vermonters must pay an ever-increasing portion of their income for rent, leaving little left for other basic necessities and often precipitating them into the downward spiral of homelessness.”

Even though Vermont’s minimum wage was increased last year, a family must have 2.3 wage earners working full-time at minimum wage, or one full-time earner working 90 hours a week, to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the average statewide Fair Market Rent of $1,075. A full-time minimum wage worker in Vermont can only afford $476 for rent and utilities, leaving a gap of just under $600 between what they can afford and the cost of the average two-bedroom apartment. While it is possible for a household to work more than one job to make ends meet, a 2011 Vermont study showed that 62% of the state’s households had only one, or less than one full-time worker.

“With rents going up steadily and a one percent vacancy rate statewide, it is not surprising that we are seeing increased homelessness, and for longer periods of time, especially among families with children,” said Sara Kobylenski, Executive Director of the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction and Co-Chair of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. “To make headway, we need more affordable homes, coupled with rental subsidies and supportive services for our lowest income Vermonters and those with special challenges.”

Greater investments in affordable housing and ending homelessness are needed at both the federal and state levels. Unfortunately, federal funding for housing, community development and rental assistance have suffered deep cuts over the last several years. Recent proposals in Congress are to eliminate funding for the National Housing Trust Fund – the first new federal housing program since the early 1990’s. Vermont’s own fiscal woes have resulted in cuts to the Vermont Housing Conservation Board for next year, while funding to alleviate homelessness has not seen the increases needed to make lasting progress, and the state’s safety net continues to fray further.

Additional Facts:

  • The national Housing Wage is $19.35 in 2015.
  • Vermont is the 13th most expensive state in the nation for renters (including DC).
  • Vermont is the ninth most expensive state for non-metropolitan/rural areas.
  • The Housing Wage is up 29% since the Great Recession began in 2008.
  • The Housing Wage in the greater metropolitan area of Burlington is $25.54, 24% higher than the state average.
  • A Vermont renter with a full-time job at the mean renter wage of $11.78 an hour can only afford $613 for rent and utilities, leaving them with an affordability gap of over $460 for a two-bedroom apartment.
  • Someone with a disability living on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can only afford $236, leaving them $839 short for a two-bedroom, and $600 short for a one-bedroom apartment.

Every year, Out of Reach reports on the Housing Wage and other housing affordability data for every state, county, metropolitan area, and combined non-metropolitan area in the country. The report presents housing costs nationwide, highlighting the gap between what renters earn and what it costs to afford rent at fair market value. For additional information, visit: www.nlihc.org/oor/.

Click the images below to view larger image:

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To download the full press release and supplemental materials for Vermont click here.

 



“Amplifying Voices” Mural Project Featured on Center for Community Change Advocacy Skillshare Blog

Posted

On Friday the “Amplifying Voices” mural project that our Resident Organizer Michelle Sayles planned and facilitated was featured on The Center for Community Change Housing Trust Fund Project Advocacy Skillshare blog:

How do you translate the collective hopes and visions of an array of community members so that they resonate with and influence decision makers in a city planning process? Faced with this challenge in Burlington, Vermont, Michelle Sayles, a Resident Organizer with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition and an artist, and Jen Berger, an artist and community activist with a history of engagement on issues of homelessness, teamed up to paint a mural. The mural was presented in February as part of Plan BTV South End public input process to develop a plan for the future of Burlington’s South End neighborhood in late March. The “Amplifying Voices” mural depicts a vision for the South End derived from a series of one-to-one interviews, neighborhood surveys, and focus group conversations with current neighborhood residents living in affordable homes, including new American families and many of the same residents that Michelle works with through VAHC’s resident organizing program.

“We wanted to make sure the concerns and aspirations of people living in the South End were part of the discussion as the City plans for the future of the South End,” said Sayles. “My experience working with residents living in the neighborhood is that we needed to provide them with a larger context about the potential impact of this process and we needed to be creative about how to engage them and seek their input.”

To read the full post, click here.

amplifyingvoices

 



Job Opportunity: VAHC is Looking to Fill AmeriCorps VISTA Resident Organizer Position!

Posted

The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition is looking for an AmeriCorps VISTA member to continue an exciting resident organizing project. In response to a growing need for resident engagement and organizing in affordable housing properties, VAHC works to organize and build leadership among residents living in subsidized housing, some of which may be at risk of losing their affordability, undergoing changes in ownership and/or major building rehabilitation. The A*VISTA will:

  • Help organize & support resident associations
  • Provide logistic & communication support (plan resident meetings, create fliers, mailings, etc.)
  • Create resources for resident leaders & organizers
  • Fundraise for short- & long-term project needs
  • Strengthen the network of resident associations and leaders and staff a project advisory committee
  • Identify and promote community engagement strategies and leadership development opportunities for residents
  • Maintain detailed documentation of project activities & outcomes
  • Provide outreach to the media & broader community
  • Promote best practices by planning conferences and trainings
  • Interface with regional and national partners by attending conferences and trainings
  • Meet requirements of Vermont Youth Tomorrow Program, including weekly timesheets, quarterly reports, and newsletter articles; attend monthly training sessions; research and write a community profile; create a legacy manual; and participate MLK Day activities.

Qualifications include:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Interest in fields of affordable housing, homelessness and community organizing
  • Commitment to working on social justice issues
  • Self-starter attitude and ability to work independently
  • Well-developed research, writing, and editing skills
  • Excellent computer skills and knowledge of web-based media
  • Commitment to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and agree to the protocols set forth by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)
  • Housing, community organizing, social media, grant-writing experience a plus
  • Valid driver’s license and car required.

A modest living allowance of $1,108 a month (gross) is provided, as well as an end of service stipend of $1,500 or education award of $5,730. For a complete summary of benefits, visit www.americorps.gov. Health benefits are available, as well as personal and medical leave time.

The position is open until filled, and the start date will be August 7, 2015. The placement is for one year from the start date. Successful candidates are required to attend a pre-service training from August 3-6. Interviews will be conducted in late May and early June. The position is based in Burlington, Vermont but serves a statewide organization.

For more information, and to apply, please fill out an application here AND send resume and cover letter with three references to: Michelle Sayles, michelle.vahc@gmail.com (note: electronic submission preferred) 275 Northgate Road Burlington, VT 05408.

 

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Reminder: VCDA Spring Conference in Randolph, May 14th

Posted May 11, 2015

Please join the Vermont Community Development Association (VCDA) for its Spring Conference on Thursday, May 14th at The Lyons Den in Randolph, VT. The theme of this year’s conference is “Age-Friendly Communities – Possibilities, Challenges, and Social & Economic Benefits.” Amy Wright will be giving the morning keynote speech and Hal Cohen, Secretary of the Agency of Human Services, will be giving the the lunch-time address. Click here for the full agenda and registration materials (PDF file). Contact Theresa Bachand at VLCT for more information at (802) 229-9111, tbachand@vlct.org.

 



Latest Budget Cut Could Harm Affordable Housing Sector

Posted May 7, 2015

This week. VPR spoke with several affordable housing advocates about Governor Shumlin’s new proposed plans for cutting the state’s budget and how they may cause damage to the affordable housing sector, including VAHC coordinator Erhard Mahnke:

“The way this has been presented by the administration is that this is a cut that will really only affect middle-income people, and they have other places they can go to get energy efficiency funds to make improvement to their homes,” says Erhard Mahnke, coordinator of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. “And nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mahnke says the weatherization funds often provide a critical piece of financing for rehabilitation of old affordable housing stock, as well as the construction of new units.

“When you’re taking these monies … away from the Vermont Fuel Efficiency Partnership, you’re removing one of the key sources that helps to stabilize housing costs over the future, for both the nonprofit operator and the low-income residents that benefit from it,” Mahnke says.

Mahnke says the program funds improvements for as many as 500 units a year. He says the heating costs that are saved are vital to the residents, half of whom report average annual incomes of $17,000. Take away the weatherization money, and Mahnke says the state will stall production of needed affordable housing capacity.

“And we need more affordable housing,” Mahnke says. “This is death by a thousand cuts. And it’s going to make it that much more difficult for us to make headway in the battle against homelessness.”

For the full article, including audio, click here.

 



Lack of Affordable Aousing in Upper Valley Concerns Lawmakers

Posted May 5, 2015

Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-NH, brought together stakeholders, affordable housing advocates, and community members to discuss New Hampshire’s housing needs. Below is a report from WPTZ on the issue they are facing and what lies ahead:

Representative Annie Kuster personally greeted Pine Tree Lane tenants at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon on May 4.

Kuster wanted to discuss the lack of affordable housing in the Upper Valley, an issue highlighted she says at the Pine Tree Lane apartment complex.

Kuster spoke to Pine Tree Lane tenants, saying, “you are our inspiration for solving the issue of affordable housing.”

In March, Pine Tree Lane residents were told that at the end of the year, their apartments will no longer be subsidized by the government. The people who live there will have to move out or pay market rates to stay.

Pine Tree Lane tenants aren’t alone. Ted Brady of the USDA said the apartment complex is 1 of about 60 affordable housing developments nation-wide with USDA loans that will be maturing this year. He said those loans help property owners provide rental assistance to their tenants.

“Your homes are the first ones in New Hampshire that are facing this natural maturation of the loan. Nationally, in the next 5 years, it just goes up and up, and in 5 to 10 years, it balloons,” Brady said.

Brady said there’s no easy solution to what he says is a growing national problem.

“We’re trying to find a way to keep these units that naturally can leave by contract in our program,” Brady said.

As for Pine Tree Lane residents, there’s still a chance they might be able to stay.

Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines Housing Trust, said he’s trying to negotiate a deal to purchase the property. He says if that happens, housing assistance would likely be available.

“There are people who have lived there for 20, 30 years, this is their home. And I think were really focused on trying to keep it their home,” Winter said.

Winter said he’s still in the early stages of pursuing a deal with the Pine Tree Lane property owners, the Hodges Company. He said he hopes to have more answers within a few weeks.

Kathy McFarlin lives at Pine Tree Lane, and said she feels hopeful.

“I feel very [relieved that] there are people who are trying to work on a solution,” McFarlin said.

Kuster said she’s going to work on not only finding a solution for Pine Tree Lane tenants, but for those affected by lack of affordable housing nation-wide.

To view the full report, including video, click here.

 



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