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Editorial: More Housing Now!

Posted June 23, 2015

Nat Frothingham, editor of The Montpelier Bridge, recently wrote an editorial piece discussing the housing situation in Montpelier and what steps can be taken to help. Below is an excerpt:

Is there ever general agreement on anything in Montpelier? Not often — because Montpelier is a state capital and a very political town.

That being the case, I was astonished after talking with four local housing experts to discover a general agreement about the housing situation in Montpelier.

Last week, I talked with Jo Ann Troiano, the longtime executive director of the Montpelier Housing Authority; also with Polly Nichol, director of housing programs for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and also a longtime member of the Montpelier Housing Task Force. Then I talked with Jack McCullough, also a Housing Task Force member who is chair of the Montpelier Housing Authority. And all along I’ve been in touch via email and phone and in person with Kevin Casey, community development specialist at the city of Montpelier’s Planning and Development Office who has a close understanding of current housing affairs.

Here’s what the four housing experts are telling us, and, although their words are slightly different, their basic description of housing problems in Montpelier is much the same:

Montpelier’s Housing Situation

There’s a tight Montpelier housing market with a vacancy rate of less than one percent, when a healthy vacancy rate ought to be about five percent.

Also, while there’s still money to support a variety of housing initiatives, that money — be it federal, state, or local money — is not as plentiful today as it was in the past.

But here’s the final point of agreement — and this was an eye-opener for me — in assessing the tightness of the housing situation in the city, we’re not just talking about so-called “affordable” housing — housing that’s partly subsidized for people in need. What impressed me in talking with the housing experts was that they were pretty much unanimous in saying, “We’ve got a tight housing market. But that tightness is not confined to affordable housing units. Or, as Kevin Casey said, “We need housing at all levels.” Or as Jack McCullough asserted, “We have problems at every price point in the system.”

To continue reading, click here.

 



Mixed Use Redevelopment of Brattleboro Site Wins HUD Design Award

Posted

The Canal & Main Apartments/Brattleboro Food Cooperative development was one of two projects to receive the 2015 HUD Secretary’s Housing and Community Design Award for excellence in affordable housing design.

HUD and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) selected Step Up on 5th in Santa Monica, California; and Brattleboro’s Canal & Main development as national affordable housing models.

“Affordable housing represents a gateway to greater opportunity. These two projects are a powerful reminder that bold vision and innovative design can shape communities of promise,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “I congratulate these winners on their achievements and I’m proud to honor them for their commitment to inclusive development.”

The Brattleboro Food Co-op, Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and Housing Vermont partnered to redevelop a site in downtown Brattleboro. The scope of the project included the demolition of the obsolete Brattleboro Food Co-op building and the construction of a four-story, highly energy-efficient, green building. The attractive new building provides 33,600 square feet of retail and office space for the Co-op on the first two floors and 24 affordable apartments in the top two floors.

Gossens Bachman Architects designed the innovative building. The award recognized the “building is a model of energy efficiency, using both conventional and innovative systems, such as heating the entire building with reclaimed waste heat from the store refrigeration system. The collaborative design process was a critical factor in making the project a model for responsible building practice and smart growth.”

The site, previously contaminated by a dry cleaning facility, was cleaned up. The building was moved away from the nearby brook to protect the water from pollution and the building from flooding. Storm water runoff is treated and filtered by a green roof, permeable surfaces in the parking lot, and a 20-foot buffer strip in the new public park created along the Whetstone Brook. Recycled heat generated by the Co-op’s refrigerators heats the store and the apartments and provides hot water.

Construction materials included locally harvested and milled flooring and slate siding manufactured in Vermont. The apartments have continuous fresh air ventilation with heat recovery and the Co-op uses a solar photovoltaic system to generate electricity. These features have cut per-square-foot energy costs by approximately 50 percent, which helps keep the apartments affordable and saves 21 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

 



USDA RD Energy Efficient Manufactured Home Pilot Project Conference Call July 8th

Posted

USDA Rural Development invites you to learn more about their new new Energy Efficient Manufactured Home Pilot Project. The Energy Efficient Manufactured Home Pilot Project allows USDA Rural Development to finance the purchase of energy efficiency manufactured and modular homes in mobile home parks across Vermont and New Hampshire. Homebuyers will be able to purchase approved Energy Star compliant manufactured homes with no money down and favorable rates and terms (30 year fixed interest loans as low as 1 percent interest rates).

On Wednesday, July 8, at 2:00pm USDA Rural Development will host an hour-long conference call to explain the benefits of the program in detail and answer any questions you might have. Call-in instructions can be found below. While RSVPs are not required, space is limited and we plan to share additional information before the meeting. To RSVP, send an email to benjamin.doyle@vt.usda.gov with the names and contact information of people in your party.

Call-in Instructions: At the designated time, call 888-844-9904. When prompted, enter the access code: 8785230.

 



Shelburne Tries to Quell Shelter Concerns

Posted June 19, 2015

This week the Burlington Free Press reported on how members of the community in Shelburne and service providers are working together to make sure that Harbor Place is safe for both guests and neighbors. Below is an excerpt from the article:

“The goal is that with some simple tweaks in the process, we can make it better.” he said. “Even though it is an excellent alternative for the agencies, it is still not meeting the expectations of Shelburne.”

Shelburne Police Chief James Warden, reached by telephone on Friday, said Champlain Housing Trust has responded every time he has asked for help from the agency. For example, they have paid for a higher security presence and purchased video security cameras.

“We want it to work,” Warden said, adding that his request is for agencies to prevent “undesirables” from being sent to Harbor Place, so others can feel safe. He said violators of Harbor Place rules should not be allowed back, even after a 30-day waiting period.

Michael Monte, chief operations and financial officer for the Champlain Housing Trust, said Harbor Place is enormously better than a system of randomly placing people in hotels throughout Chittenden County.

“But what we really need are more long-term and permanent affordable housing, and we are dedicated to providing that,” Monte said. “Our goal is to create 40 more homes for the chronically homeless and 30 additional homes for homeless families in the next year.”

The Harbor Place site could not currently be considered for permanent multi-family residences, said Shelburne Town Planner Dean Pierce, because of the zoning requirement for 10,000 square feet of property for each dwelling unit in the mixed-use zone.

If the form-based zoning being discussed for Shelburne comes to fruition, the possibility could exist for buildings to be converted to permanent housing on the 6-acre Harbor Place property, Pierce said. If adopted, the new density regulations would require 7,500 square feet for the first three units of a multi-family dwelling and 2,000 for each subsequent unit, allowing the opportunity for a 60-unit residence like the Harbor Place structure to exist if it met other regulations.

Jan Demers, Executive Director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, explained that the organization has a contract with the Vermont Department for Children and Families, providing services to assist the guests at Harbor Place but that CVOEO does not do referrals.

Demers said by email that she is pleased that increased communication is a priority for the neighbors, town administration and service providers. “Harbor Place is a wonderful, safe alternative to isolated hotels for short term transition housing with the goal for more rapid permanent housing solutions.”

To read the full article click here.

 



Job Opportunity: President & CEO of Cathedral Square Corporation

Posted

Cathedral Square Corporation is seeking a proven leader to achieve its vision to create healthy environments where all Vermonters have access to affordable homes and the supports they need. During a time of unprecedented change in the health care and affordable housing industries, the next President and CEO will fully understand both worlds and anticipate the opportunities that exist at their intersection. The President and CEO will have the financial acumen and exceptional interpersonal skills to maintain a thriving nonprofit business as well as the leadership to motivate staff at one of the Best Places to Work in Vermont. As CSC’s external ambassador, the next President and CEO will champion equity and affordability for the highest need, lowest income Vermonters. Interested candidates should note that there is a strong internal candidate for this position.

The CEO will be an experienced leader at the Executive level of a mid-size to large organization with demonstrated effective skills in the development and support of a multidisciplinary Board of Directors. The CEO will be a critical strategic thinker and problem solver with demonstrated talent in relationship building and a passion for low income elderly and special needs populations. A master’s degree in public policy, gerontology, business administration or related field is a plus. The successful candidate will have knowledge of CSC operations and specifically an understanding of the complex national and state funding and regulatory environments of affordable housing and health care. The CEO must possess excellent verbal and written communication skills and proven capacity to facilitate effectively across diverse partner organizations.

For more information and to apply go to http://cathedralsquare.org/ceo.

cathedralsquare

 



3rd Annual White River Junction VA Medical Center Community Mental Health Summit, July 29th

Posted

The 3rd annual White River Junction VA Medical Center Community Mental Health Summit will be taking place on July 29th from 11:30 am-3:30 pm at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Bldg. 44, Room 103 (see map).

This year’s Summit will include three plenary sessions; 1) Panel Presentation on Community Resources Available to Support Family Members of Veterans and Service Members, 2) Discussion and Q+A on Ending Veterans Homelessness, and 3) a Review and Discussion of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (CHOICE Act). For a complete agenda click here.

Please email this form to Judy.Farrell@va.gov to register so that they can be sure to accommodate all who wish to attend. Please note that food will not be provided, but you are welcome to bring a bag lunch.

 



Waitlist for Section 8 Vouchers Now Closed

Posted June 18, 2015

The waitlist for Section 8 vouchers in Vermont, which reopened on April 1st of this year, is now closed. For more information read this recent article from the Rutland Herald below or at the link here:

With fewer federal dollars available to help and rents rising out of reach for more and more Vermonters, the state housing authority on Monday closed its waitlist for Section 8 housing vouchers after more than 1,400 applications flooded in within just two and a half months.

As of mid-day Monday, the agency had 1,435 applications on its waitlist, said Kathleen Berk, director of housing programs for Vermont State Housing Authority. The VSHA first closed its list in 2010, and despite briefly reopening it for those displaced by Tropical Storm Irene, kept it closed until April 1 of this year, when it had gone through every application on file.

“I think the number is astounding and really speaks to the incredible need for affordable housing across the state,” Berk said.

Section 8 vouchers are the federal government’s major program for assisting low-income families to afford housing in the private market. Administered locally by public housing authorities, the vouchers are funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While waitlists in the past could reach these numbers, Berk said, they usually didn’t so accurately reflect need. Administrators would reach a name on the list and find out that the applicant had found help elsewhere, or was no longer eligible, and would move on to the next name.

But with these applications submitted within such a short period of time, Berk said all but a negligible amount of those 1,400 applicants probably do need the assistance now.

Vermont is the 13th most expensive state in the country for renters, according to a report jointly released in May by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. 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 statewide average market rate of $1,075, according to the report.

Statewide, a renter needs to make $16.07 an hour to afford a market-rate one-bedroom at $836, but the average Vermont renter only makes $11.78 an hour, the report said. Rents in Vermont have gone up 29 percent since 2008, it noted.

Of the applications currently on the VSHA’s waitlist, 579 are families with children, Berk said, 169 are elderly households, and 256 are families with disabilities. Seventy-six of those 1,400 applications are from Rutland County, Berk said, and 33 of those applications represent families with children. Eight are applications from elderly households, 18 from families with disabilities.

The VSHA generally issues vouchers on a first-come, first-served basis, although since Irene, it also gives slight preference to those recently displaced by fire, flood and condemnation, Berk said. Those in a transitional housing program administered by the VSHA get some preference as well, Berk said, and the agency is seeking public input on the possibility for a preference for homeless families.

The VSHA is approved to administer 3,736 vouchers, but only 3,292 of those vouchers were funded as of May 1, Berk said. She added that assuming funding levels hold steady and the agency turns over 30 to 50 vouchers a month, the VSHA expects it will be about two years before it gets through its waitlist.

Regional housing authorities across the state administer Section 8 vouchers as well, but Vermonters seeking relief there generally face waitlists of two to three years.

A renter who lives within a regional authority’s boundaries can apply to the state and the regional authority’s Section 8 programs, but ultimately can only accept one voucher.

In Rutland County, the Rutland Housing Authority administers vouchers within six miles of the Rutland City limits. That authority’s waitlist is open, but any renter submitting his or her name now faces about a two-year wait, said Becky Ladabouche, RHA office assistant. The authority has a little less than 200 vouchers to work with, she said.

Bennington Housing Authority’s waitlist is open, but it should take the agency anywhere between two and three years to get through the names already on the waitlist, said Debbie Reed, BHA executive director.

The Montpelier Housing Authority waitlist is open — after having been closed for about four years — but 50 applicants already sit on the waitlist. Of the 122 vouchers the agency is approved to administer, only 106 are funded, said Jo-Ann Troiano, MHA executive director.

 



First-Time Homebuyers Eligible For $5,000 In Down Payment Assistance

Posted June 12, 2015

Earlier this week, Sarah Carpenter of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency discussed their new program that will provide down-payment assistance to first time homebuyers on VPR:

First-time home buyers in Vermont are getting some help with the expenses that come with buying a house. Legislation signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin last week includes up to $5,000 for closing costs and down payments.

That program will be administered by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, but VHFA doesn’t directly lend money to homebuyers. Instead, they work with participating lenders like credit unions and community banks. “They’ll go into one of those institutions, be qualified for one of the VHFA programs and it would be there that they’ll get the down-payment assistance”, said VHFA executive director Sarah Carpenter. The down payment assistance money will be paid back as a zero interest loan when the home is sold or refinanced.

Low and moderate income Vermonters who make up to $100,000 qualify for the VHFA programs. “We understand that many working families are in that range searching for a home,” Carpenter said.

“What we’re seeing these days is just an increase in closing cost fees, down payment requirements and for a lot of home buyers, especially young families, saving that cash is very difficult. They’ve got student loans to pay, they’re paying high rents, so it’s a real sort of cash flow problem, getting the cash up front to buy that first home is very problematic,” Carpenter said, adding that VHFA sees many eligible homebuyers still renting apartments.

For the full report, including audio, click here.

 



Save the Date: 2015 Guen Gifford Advocate Training, October 30th

Posted

Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Law Line of Vermont are pleased to announce the 2015 Guen Gifford Advocate Training at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont:
Date: October 30, 2015
Time: 8:30am-4:00pm
Cost: TBD (includes materials, a light breakfast and lunch)

Seminar topics include basic housing, subsidized housing, diversity, basic health care changes and more! Look for registration information and dates and seminar descriptions to be released in August.

Please contact the Office Manager at bwells@lawlinevt.org in advance if you require an interpreter or any other accommodation.

 



FHLB Boston Affordable Housing Program Training in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire on July 28th

Posted June 10, 2015

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston is offering an Affordable Housing Program application training session at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire on July 28, 2015. The training is offered for housing partners, developers, members, and other stakeholders interested in applying for funding in the upcoming 2015 AHP funding round. At the session, you will learn ways to maximize your success in submitting an Affordable Housing Program application. You will also learn how to use certain aspects of the Bank’s online AHP application and ask knowledgeable staff as many questions as you like during this training. A must for anyone thinking about submitting a 2015 AHP funding application.

To attend, please register online by July 21, 2015. If you have any questions, please contact Paulette Vass at 617-292-9792.

Webinars, as well as other training sessions throughout New England, will also be provided. To view a full list of training opportunities click here. The online application period begins July 27 and applications are due September 15.

 



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