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My Bottom Line: Make Worker Housing a Priority

Posted March 19, 2015

Chris Donnelly, director of community relations for the Champlain Housing Trust and Vice Chair of the VAHC Steering Committee, wrote this piece for the Burlington Free Press on making affordable housing for the workforce a priority. Read more below or click here:

Housing — and affordable housing in particular — seems to be on everyone’s mind. Perhaps that’s because of the increase of development activity we’re seeing in Burlington and surrounding towns, or perhaps the public discussion on income inequality has made us think more about our personal budgets and spending.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin told me and others that access to affordable housing was among the chief concerns he hears from business owners. Let me tell you what I know about our workforce and its needs for affordable housing.

At first glance, Vermont’s employment numbers seem positive, with unemployment at its lowest statewide since 2005. But that doesn’t show the whole picture. It does not, for example, take into account part-time and temporary workers or the underemployed — those working of necessity below their skill level because they can’t find an appropriate job. The latest Census data show that Vermont’s median household income slipped 2.2 percent between 2012 and 2013, from $53,747 to $52,578, while the poverty rate rose 1.2 percent to 11.8 percent, with 74,058 Vermonters living in poverty.

The people at the bottom of the economic ladder are having the hardest time. I think most of us would agree programs that alleviate poverty and address chronic homelessness should be a priority for public resources. We witnessed a 9 percent increase in homelessness last year and an explosion of state spending on motels in recent years to provide emergency housing to make sure people don’t die from exposure.

But what about housing for working people? Is there a compelling interest in creating affordable housing for our workforce? More than half of the population who rents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, the level deemed affordable. With income stagnation, this doesn’t seem sustainable. Let me give you a few real life examples.

Maleka Clarke lives in Burlington’s New North End. A single mom, she was homeless when her son was born. Aided by the stability of an affordable apartment, she put herself through school and is now a registered nurse . She can’t afford a market rent.

Ian Boyd works at Community College of Vermont. He’s in the generation that many fear are fleeing Vermont because of the high cost of living. With $35,000 in college debt, he wasn’t sure he could put down roots here because it was so expensive. Ian spent three years to reach his goal of buying a home, made possible because of his hard work and Champlain Housing Trust’s shared equity homeownership program.

Kristilynne Goodwin works two jobs and has raised her four boys in Colchester in an affordable CHT apartment. Her experience is common among the people in northwestern Vermont, where many jobs don’t pay enough to cover market rent. To afford the Fair Market Rent for a three-bedroom apartment for her and her kids, she’d need to earn about $31 an hour.

In Chittenden County affordability belies reality. Efficiency apartments are advertised for more than $1,200 a month, requiring an income of $50,000 or about $23 an hour. With a 1 percent vacancy rate, I am sure those apartments will be rented, just as I am sure that other landlords are paying attention to what the market will bear. This will price workers like Kristilynne and Maleka out of the market, and it makes it harder for people like Ian to buy a home .

There is an answer. Vermont has a strong network of nonprofit affordable housing organizations. State and local communities can invest in more opportunity for the workforce by partnering with this network. Beyond Burlington, communities like Hinesburg, South Burlington, Williston and others have started down this path by committing local resources and creating local policies to create housing for the workers who live there.

For these people, there’s no distinction between affordable and workforce housing.


Hinesburg Wins $675,000 Housing Grant

Posted March 18, 2015

Hinesburg is one of several communities that was recently awarded a Community Development Block Grant from the Vermont Community Development Program. Read how Champlain Housing Trust, Housing Vermont, and Snyder Homes plan on using these funds to build 23 new affordable housing units in this article from the Burlington Free Press:

Hinesburg recently was awarded a grant of $675,000 under the Vermont Community Development Program, for the purpose of helping to fund affordable housing in the Green Street project.

The grant, announced last week by Gov. Shumlin and Patricia Moulton, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, was the second largest among those awarded to 13 Vermont towns and cities, for a total of $4,287,000. The other grants, from $19,830 to $850,000, are expected to fund accessibility, disaster recovery and housing.

The Green Street development will be built south of the southwest corner of Vermont 116 and Charlotte Road, along a newly constructed road. It received approval from the town Development Review Board in October for 23 units in townhouse-style homes including two one-story accessible apartments.

A 2010 housing assessment for the Hinesburg Affordable Housing Committee reported a strong need for more rental access in Hinesburg for people earning less than 60 percent of the average median income.

Chris Snyder of Snyder Homes, builder of the project, said the company plans to start construction about May 15.

A sidewalk will connect the units with Vermont 116 for access to the community school and other amenities in the village.

About eight acres of open space west of the built area will be available for agricultural use and a 100-foot buffer for the LaPlatte River.

An earlier different application for the area had received water allocation from the town; the State of Vermont will issue a revised water permit, Snyder said. It would be in effect when the town’s new wells are online.

Community Development Program grants must go to municipalities, which then lend the funds to the prospective owners — in this case Champlain Housing Trust and Housing Vermont.

Amy Demetrowitz of Champlain Housing Trust said, “We had a very good relationship with Snyder on a successful project in Williston. We are happy to partner with Snyder Homes on a turnkey project.”

For a link to the full article, click here.


100,000 Homes Update & Seven Days Article

Posted March 5, 2015

The organizers of the 100,000 Homes Campaign recently updated the community on some of the progress they have made since the registry event, which took place in October. Below are some of the current statistics as of February 2015. To read the entire progress report, click here.


Seven Days has also published an article on the campaign that highlights some of the recent progress being made in this week’s issue, titled “Turning the Longtime Homeless Population Into Tenants.” Below is an excerpt:

Last October, dozens of volunteers wearing bright green shirts surveyed homeless people in Burlington. They were participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign — a national effort to identify and house the most vulnerable members of the homeless population. Despite the lofty name, organizers made a point to temper expectations: Volunteers were instructed to make it clear that participation in the survey did not guarantee housing.

That left an important question unanswered: Would anything come of it?

Richard North was sleeping near Cherry Street around dawn during one October morning when a volunteer showed up with a clipboard. The 55-year-old man has lived in Burlington his whole life — the last two decades of it on the streets, panhandling outside Rite Aid and camping in out-of-the-way corners of the city.

North answered 50 questions about his mental health, medical conditions, substance abuse and relationships. Known as the Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool, the survey assesses how likely it is that people will die on the streets. Of the 205 survey participants, North rated among the top 10.

On February 1, for the first time in his life, North moved into an apartment of his own.

It’s easy to see why he scored high. Some time ago, he lost a toe to frostbite. While living in an encampment off an Interstate 89 exit, he was hit by a motorcycle. He has struggled with alcoholism for years, and he also has a heart condition. “It wasn’t easy at times,” is how North summed up 20 years on the streets. A pair of massive boots and a Carhartt jumpsuit — which helped him survive the cold — lay in a pile on his living room floor. Now, instead of worrying about how to stay warm, North has another concern: when he’ll get cable TV.

The nonprofit Community Solutions started the 100,000 Homes Campaign four and a half years ago, and it has spread to approximately 200 communities across the U.S. It embraces the Housing First approach, which promotes housing people without prerequisites such as completing substance-abuse treatment programs. It also operates on the premise that it’s ultimately cheaper to give people housing than to leave them on the streets. The logic: Doing so cuts down on trips to emergency rooms, incarceration and other costs.

The campaign provides the blueprint, but local organizations do all the work — training volunteers, administering the survey, and then figuring out how to cut through red tape and find the money to line up housing for people. A big part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign credo is encouraging local groups to improve their coordination with one another.

It also gives communities a goal: house 2.5 percent of their most vulnerable homeless residents each month. So far, organizers in Burlington are meeting that target. In all, they’ve found apartments for 23 people. According to Chris Brzovic, the local coordinator for the campaign, the person in greatest need of housing moved into an apartment on March 1.

To read the article in full, click here.


Leahy, Sanders, Welch Announce $1.5 M In Affordable Housing Grants For Vermont’s Local NeighborWorks Organizations


Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vermont) Wednesday announced $1.5 million in grants to revitalize communities and support access to affordable housing across Vermont. The announcement marks the first round of 2015 federal grants awarded by NeighborWorks America.

Leahy said: “Vermont’s NeighborWorks affiliates are on the front lines of creating jobs and stabilizing our communities by investing in affordable housing. Vermont, like the rest of the country, faces an extreme shortage of affordable housing. These investments will help our local NeighborWorks Organizations to continue to build, rehabilitate and manage affordable housing for Vermonters and provide vital housing counseling and education for renters, homebuyers and homeowners. These grants will support their excellent record of lending a hand to Vermonters in need and in helping to strengthen our communities.”

Sanders said: “It is no secret that over the past decade, incomes have not come close to keeping pace with rising housing costs. At a time when countless families are struggling to get by, and when many households are spending more and more of their limited income on housing, this grant will help provide more housing to Vermonters who need it.”

Welch said: “Every Vermonter should have the peace of mind that comes with a safe and affordable home. These funds are a welcome investment in our communities and can be put to use helping families with a wide range of challenges such as finding a rental, needed home repairs and financial counseling. I applaud NeighborWorks for their commitment to strengthening and improving neighborhoods all over Vermont.”

As the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Leahy has led efforts to support for annual funding for NeighborWorks America. Last year Leahy led a group of 30 senators (link is external), which includes Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in urging the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee to support funding for NeighborWorks America, which has a proven its ability to leverage federal appropriations with other investments.

NeighborWorks America is a public nonprofit established by Congress to invest in revitalizing communities and preserving affordable housing through their 245 partner organizations across the country. NeighborWorks America awarded five grants to Vermont’s affiliates, totaling $1,558,939, an increase over the $1,334,634 awarded last year:

Central Vermont Community Land Trust Inc. — $161,250
Champlain Housing Trust — $574,189
NeighborWorks of Western Vermont — $269,385
RuralEdge — $214,160
Windham & Windsor Housing Trust — $339,955

Ludy Biddle, director of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (NWWV), said: “This grant makes it possible for us to carry out everything from our personal counseling for elderly couples threatened with foreclosure, to our home repair and efficiency program that is saving residents more than a million dollars a year in energy costs, to our neighborhood program impacting all the residents in a 10-block area near downtown Rutland. NeighborWorks America makes this all possible.”

Chris Donnelly, director of community relations for Champlain Housing Trust, said: “NeighborWorks America’s support strengthens our organization at a time when there is an increasing need for our services. This funding will also help us build new affordable apartments to address the significant shortage of housing in our region.”


Save the Date: CHT Public Forum and Advocacy Workshop, February 3rd

Posted January 27, 2015

In preparation for the VHCC Legislative Day on February 12th, Champlain Housing Trust will be hosting a public forum and advocacy workshop, “The Housing Gap and Policy Answers”. This event will take place at Champlain Housing Trust (88 King Street, Burlington) on February 3rd from 5:30pm to 7:45pm. A light supper and drinks will also be provided. In addition CHT will be providing rides to the Legislative Day event on the 12th from Burlington that leave at 7:00am and return by 3:00pm.

To RSVP for the event or get additional information contact Julia Curry by phone at 861-7378 or by email at



Housing and the Economy: The Statewide Ripple Effect

Posted November 10, 2014

A new paper was released this week highlighting the link between housing and Vermont’s economy. Housing and the Economy: The Statewide Ripple Effect, is the fifth and final paper in a series that is designed to demonstrate the value of affordable housing for people and communities across the State of Vermont.

From the paper:

In 2008, the bottom fell out of the economy, and the much‐touted housing bubble burst. As happened with firms around the country, at Naylor & Breen Builders, a Brandon‐based construction company founded in 1978, business took a hit. Until that time, says president and co‐founder Rob Naylor, close to 85 percent of their business was negotiated work, but in 2008, “it was like someone turned the spigot off,” and those jobs plummeted to zero. Yet the company managed to stay afloat, thanks in large part to the affordable housing renovation and new build projects with which they had long been involved, work whose funding sources—grants and tax credits—were unchanged.  

“The jobs that pulled us through were the ones in the pipeline for these affordable housing projects,” says Naylor. “They didn’t get shut off, which helped tremendously.” And with some 80 carpenters, demolition professionals, finishers, and field technicians on staff, Naylor & Breen is a significant area employer, with a hand in some 50 affordable housing projects since the early 1990s, when it was the contractor for a scattered site project coordinated by Housing Vermont in Rutland.

Construction is perhaps most visibly affected by the housing industry, but many other sectors are as well: real estate; law; architecture; lumber mills; lighting, heating and plumbing equipment manufacturing and installation; and brokerage firms, to name but a few. Indeed, the overall economy is affected, from the local on up to the national level. Both new construction and rehabs mean increased tax revenues for local and state government. Thanks to an ongoing ripple effect, area businesses—grocery stores, bars and restaurants, auto repair shops and gas stations—along with public transportation providers will also be impacted directly. It’s significant, given that the effect is greater for every dollar spent on housing than for just about any other spending category.

To read the full paper click here (PDF file).

For more information, contact Chris Donnelly at the Champlain Housing Trust by calling (802) 861-7305 or Kenn Sassorossi at Housing Vermont at (802) 863-8284.


Housing Co-Op Approved in Old North End

Posted October 29, 2014

Champlain Housing Trust recently received approval by the Burlington Development Review Board to begin work on development of the new Bright Street Cooperative housing in the Old North End. From an article in today’s Burlington Free Press:

Champlain Housing Trust is on track to demolish three buildings and construct 42 new housing units in Burlington’s Old North End.

The Burlington Development Review Board voted unanimously last week to give the project final zoning approval.

The project represents significant redevelopment of the area between Bright Street and Archibald Street by adding a three-story apartment building, two duplexes, a building with three units and a total of 44 parking spaces.

“I think it’ll just really improve the aesthetics of the neighborhood, and it’ll bring just some really critically needed affordable housing to Burlington,” said Amy Demetrowitz, director of real estate development for Champlain Housing Trust.

The project will be organized as a co-op with one- to four-bedroom units. Demetrowitz said the co-op model gives residents a sense of ownership.

Of the 42 new units, six will be market-rate homes, and the remainder will be priced to be affordable for households earning less than 50 to 60 percent of the area median income.

Construction is expected to begin in May of 2015 with a goal of being ready for occupation by May or June of 2016. To read the entire article click here. For previous coverage of the Bright Street development, also from the Burlington Free Press, click here.



Finding Housing Is a Headache In Vermont

Posted October 20, 2014

Chris Donnelly, director of community relations at the Champlain Housing Trust, recently spoke with the Burlington Free Press about many of the housing issues we face here in Vermont. Below is an excerpt from the article published today:

BURLINGTON FREE PRESS: How would you describe the housing options in Vermont? Can people find the housing they need where they want or need to live at prices they can afford?

CHRIS DONNELLY: Housing options vary from region to region, but in general, wages in Vermont have not kept pace with the cost of housing. Looking statewide, the housing wage – which is the amount a renter earns to make a two bedroom, fair market rent affordable — is $19.36 per hour.

There isn’t enough housing for low income households, period. The rental vacancy rate in Burlington is about 1 percent; in Bennington, it’s 2 percent. A healthy market has 5 percent vacancy.

For those seeking to buy, lower interest rates have helped, but Vermont didn’t see a plummet in home prices like the rest of the country. To afford the statewide median-priced home of $200,000, you’d need to save $16,700 for down payment and closing costs, and earn about $59,000. Over half of Vermont households don’t earn that much.

BFP: How does Vermont’s housing situation compare to the housing picture in neighboring states?

CD: The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston studied how renters are doing in New England and found that Chittenden County had the highest percentage of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent, with the exception of two counties on Cape Cod which has little rental housing. More than half of renters in five of Vermont’s 14 counties are similarly cost-burdened. This phenomenon is not isolated to Vermont, as we’re seeing Governors Patrick (MA) and Malloy (CT), and Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City launch ambitious campaigns to address the issue.

To read the full article click here.


Housing and Homelessness: Opening Doors, Closing Gaps


A new paper was released this week highlighting the link between housing and homelessness. Housing and Homelessness: Opening Doors, Closing Gaps, is the fourth in a series of papers that is designed to demonstrate the value of affordable housing for people and communities across the State of Vermont. While the connection between housing and homelessness is rather clear, there is much more to the issue of homelessness than what may be openly visible.

From the paper:

In Vermont, it’s just as often entire families—parents and young children—who don’t have anywhere warm and safe to go at night, forced onto the streets by inflated rents, bad credit, underemployment, or, like Laurie T., having to make the impossible choice between a roof over their heads or food in their bellies. The mother of an 8‐year‐old and a 13‐year‐old, Laurie lost her apartment when hours were cut at her minimum‐wage job. Leaving the kids with her mother, she and her boyfriend, who was unemployed, used their car as housing. The four eventually found themselves at the Upper Valley Haven, a White River Junction shelter and facility.

Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Haven and co‐chair of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, says their two shelters—with the capacity to house eight families and 20 adults—are routinely full. Last winter, the staff even had to set up cots in the shelters’ public spaces to accommodate the overflow. Shelters aren’t the only answer, of course, but some families are housed in emergency motels that have been found rundown, filthy, and roach‐infested, with rooms that have so much mold, anyone staying there risks health issues.

Nationwide, five factors are responsible for homelessness: (1) lack of affordable housing; (2) gap between earned income and the cost of available housing; (3) health costs; (4) natural disasters; and (5) relationship problems—in particular, domestic violence. While the latter three are largely circumstantial, the former two are not. 

To read the full paper click here (PDF file).

For more information, contact Chris Donnelly at the Champlain Housing Trust by calling (802) 861-7305 or Kenn Sassorossi at Housing Vermont at (802) 863-8284.


Housing and the Workforce: A Place to Hang One’s Hat

Posted October 6, 2014

A new paper was released this week highlighting the link between affordable housing and other public policy priorities. Housing and the Workforce: A Place to Hang One’s Hat, is the third in a series of papers that is designed to demonstrate the value of affordable housing for people and communities across the State of Vermont. Housing is a key issue that affects many workers in Vermont.

From the paper:

“It has an impact when people are worried about where they’re going to live,” says Lisa Falcone, Working Bridges project director, “and that’s a big issue for a lot of workers in Vermont.” Managed by the United Way of Chittenden County, Working Bridges is an employer collaborative focused on workplace productivity, retention, advancement, and financial stability for employees. Falcone says she’s spoken with the human resources director at one area company that pays a generous entry-level wage but has a perpetually open, technically skilled position. The HR director has told Falcone that she can’t find anyone to take the job because prospective employees are deterred by the cost of living in general and of housing in particular.

It’s an issue that’s felt by companies and their employees statewide, and at multiple income and skill levels. Heather Banks, former senior director of human resources at UTC Aerospace (formerly Goodrich), the Vergennes-based manufacturer that employs 850, found it difficult to hire mid-level professionals from out of state because many were unable to find rental housing, whether for 30 days or a year. Banks says it was equally challenging to lure semi-skilled technical workers down from the Northeast Kingdom and elsewhere, for essentially the same reasons.

To read the full paper click here (PDF file).

For more information, contact Chris Donnelly at the Champlain Housing Trust by calling (802) 861-7305 or Kenn Sassorossi at Housing Vermont at (802) 863-8284.


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