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Champlain Housing Trust’s Shared Equity Homeownership Program Featured in Burlington Free Press

Posted April 14, 2016

Champlain Housing Trust‘s shared equity homeownership program is featured in today’s issue of the Burlington Free Press. The program has helped over 1000 families achieve the dream of homeownership since its creation. To read the full article, click here. Below is an excerpt:

Lal Gurung, born in Bhutan, spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before emigrating to Vermont in January 2011. A little more than three years later, after spending a significant portion of his life living in a plastic tent, he became a homeowner in Burlington’s South End, thanks to an innovative shared equity program from Champlain Housing Trust.

The program, which provides a generous down payment that stays with the house if it is sold, has made homeowners out of more than 1,000 families since it was launched in 1984 by then-mayor of Burlington, Bernie Sanders.

“This was something the Sanders Administration came up with as a way to halt gentrification in the Old North End, and give people a stake in ownership,” said Chris Donnelly, director of community relations for the Champlain Housing Trust. “Burlington became the first city in the country to put public money into creating a community land trust.”

Today, the nonprofit Champlain Housing Trust has an annual operating budget of $10 million, with 80 percent of its income from fees and rents that people pay to live in its housing, or from developing new housing. The other 20 percent of the budget comes from grants and donations.

“Most of it is people paying rent,” Donnelly said. “In our portfolio we have about 2,200 rentals of all shapes and sizes.”

The Trust’s rental housing is kept affordable, with rent and utilities that add up to about 30 percent of the renters’ incomes.

“If you look at all the property we manage, we commit to keeping it affordable forever,” Donnelly said. “We have about $300 million worth of assets.”

Earlier this year, Champlain Housing Trust was one of six organizations honored by the Allstate/Atlantic Media Renewal Awards for “innovative local approaches to pressing issues affecting communities across the country.

To continue reading, click here.

 



A Mother’s Story: Immigrant Emerges With Hope

Posted September 1, 2015

The Burlington Free Press recently featured the story of a local single mother who became homeless after immigrating to the United States. Alicia Araje struggled to get connected with the resources essential to caring for herself and her young daughter. Alicia persevered and eventually found the programs and support she needed achieve stability and a new job, which then made it possible for her to rent an affordable apartment through Champlain Housing Trust. Written by staff writer April Burbank, Alicia’s story details many of the challenges people in her position face and shows how important housing is to achieving stability and success. Below is an excerpt from the article:

When Alicia Araje stands behind a cafeteria cash register at Burlington High School, she sometimes thinks about the fragile balance of having enough to eat.

Some students max their line of credit with the high school, which she believes is an indicator they would go hungry if not for the cafeteria’s service.

Araje says in some ways she’s working her “dream job.” She, too, has known hunger. More painfully, she has known what it’s like to deny a child’s hungry cries.

Araje speaks five languages and had worked as a legal assistant in her native Burundi before immigrating to the United States. Two years ago, however, Araje was rebuilding her life from “zero.”

Her English was poor, and she had trouble accessing the maze of support systems in what she had expected would be a “land of freedom.” She relied on her Christian faith and single-minded devotion to her daughter as she took every opportunity that came her way.

“No one was there. No one,” Araje said. “God, obviously, was there, because I don’t know how we survived. I don’t know how we kept going. I don’t know why I didn’t die.”

The young mother, 26, moved into a new apartment in July with her daughter, Alison, now 4. She agreed to share her story with the Burlington Free Press through Champlain Housing Trust, the organization that connected her with housing.

She hopes her story, as one among thousands, will illuminate the struggles of other families and encourage people to help their neighbors.

“I hope every mother doesn’t have to go through what I went through,” Araje said. “I hope any woman in this Earth can never have to experience what I experienced.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin has pledged to eliminate family homelessness by 2020, and state officials also are working to cut the child poverty rate in half.

But challenges persist. Last month, an annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that Vermont, like the nation as a whole, had more children living below the federal poverty line in 2013 than during the depth of the economic recession five years earlier.

That year, Araje had divorced from her husband. The separation was swift and left her with few resources. That was their first Vermont winter.

“I think it was my first time being in the cold. It was snowing. I never see snow in my life, I never be cold,” said Araje, who chose to be identified by her maiden name. “Ali was 1. I had to move with her on my back, don’t know where I’m going, don’t know how to take the bus, don’t know anyone.”

Araje knew everything had changed. She slept on a thin shelter bunk bed for two nights, with 1-year-old Alison lying on top of her because there was no other place. They found emergency housing in a local motel.

Vermont granted emergency housing for 1,747 children in the last fiscal year, said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of the state Department for Children and Families. In a recent legislative report, domestic violence or child abuse were the top factors in general assistance housing applications statewide, followed by chronic homelessness, and family separation or eviction.

Unlike food and emergency health care, permanent housing is not an entitlement program — there’s no guarantee of assistance, said Chris Donnelly of the Champlain Housing Trust.

“It’s a full-time job, almost, to try to keep yourself in some kind of stable housing,” Donnelly said. “I can’t imagine when you have an infant.”

As an immigrant, Araje was ineligible for federal public assistance programs, though the younger Alison was eligible for some programs.

“When I went, they denied me. They denied me completely,” Araje said of the initial application with the state. “So I had like a long time with no food. Like a month, I think.”

She later found out through the work of an immigration attorney, Erin Jacobsen, that special circumstances meant she would qualify for help.

“It’s a very, very, very common thing that immigrants come to me for legal help with their immigration status. … That also means that they could really use some help with resources,” said Jacobsen, a pro bono attorney at the Vermont Law School’s South Royalton Legal Clinic. “And most of the time they’re not eligible.”

To continue reading the article, click here.

 



Report: Emergency Housing Costs Unsustainable

Posted August 3, 2015

The Vermont Agency of Human Services recently released a biannual report on the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program. Below is an article from the Burlington Free Press on how the report shows that the current cost of the program is unsustainable and what improvements may be made in the future:

The cost of Vermont’s emergency housing program is unsustainable due to burgeoning need during winter months and the use of motels, according to a report released Friday.

The state spent $4.2 million — $1.6 million dollars more than budgeted — this year on emergency housing. Some $2.3 million is allocated for next year, though in past years the Legislature has adjusted the budget to accommodate need in the community.

“The need for emergency housing and its cost continue to be prohibitively expensive, particularly among households with victims of domestic violence,” Chris Dalley of the Economic Services Division wrote in the report to the state Legislature. “Long-term funding for emergency housing in this manner is not sustainable.”

The number of people who received cold weather emergency housing increased by 80 percent between 2014 and 2015, from 6,835 to 12,279, said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of the Economic Services Division.

When homeless shelters are full, the state sends emergency housing recipients to motels. The average daily cost of motels has continued to burgeon annually from $47 in 2009 to $71 this year, according to the report.

“Over the past few years, the budget for emergency housing has been significantly challenging,” said Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

For example, last year, the Legislature adjusted the budget from $2.6 million to $3.2 million. The program still went over budget to $4.2 million for the fiscal year ending in June.

The majority of the overspending — $850,000—stemmed from need during the winter months.

Officials with the Department for Children and Families are working with community partners to come up with alternatives to motels, such as temporary or seasonal warming shelters, Schatz said.

For example, last winter, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity opened a temporary warming shelter with 20 beds at the site of the old Ethan Allen Club on College Street in Burlington.

The Department for Children and Families helped to fund that community effort.

“That program was full every night it was open,” Schatz said. “Instead of having to pay for motels, the shelter addressed needs at a lower cost.”

“The cost of establishing and operating shelters is significantly less than giving motel vouchers, but opening them requires some preparation,” Schatz added.

Schatz said department officials are in discussions about the possibility of opening warming shelters next winter in Burlington and St. Johnsbury.

“We want to create alternatives to meet those housing needs without relying upon motels so motels would be a last resort,” Schatz said. “We are working with the community to identify what is missing in communities.”

State law requires the biannual report to the Legislature.

But Schatz noted that emergency housing in just one piece of addressing homelessness. The state also needs to provide more affordable housing, he said.

“Hopefully, we will move forward with more affordable housing and will reduce the need for emergency housing,” Schatz said.

To view the full article on the Burlington Free Press website, click here.

 



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.

 



Affordable Housing Puts Many Businesses to Work

Posted April 16, 2015

Chris Donnelly, Director of Community Relations for the Champlain Housing Trust and VAHC Steering Committee member, writes about how affordable housing helps strengthen our economy for the Burlington Free Press:

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Rob Naylor, president and co-founder of Naylor & Breen Builders, a Brandon-based construction company. He had come to the Vermont Statehouse to explain to lawmakers how important building affordable housing was to his business and his 80 employees — especially when the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008.

His message? Don’t skimp on funding affordable housing.

The need for affordable housing is well documented: renters in Chittenden County are the most cost-burdened in New England, across the state there’s a 1 percent vacancy rate (a healthy market is 4-6 percent vacancy), and homelessness increased.

All of these are compelling reasons for the state and local communities to invest in affordable housing. But, as Mr. Naylor told legislators, there is another benefit that’s right before our eyes: the economy.

Construction companies like Naylor & Breen are perhaps most visibly affected by the housing industry, but many others are as well. Architects, lumber mills, lighting suppliers, heating and plumbing manufacturing and installation, and financial institutions, to name but a few, all are dependent on housing production. Indeed, the overall economy is affected, from the local on up to the national level. Both new construction and the rehabilitation of existing housing mean increased tax revenues for local and state government.

Moreover, 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.

How do we quantify this? According to the National Association of Home Builders, for every 10 apartments built, 12.2 construction-related jobs are created. After they are built, the people in them support another three jobs in the community.

One of my colleagues, Jim Lovinsky of the Lamoille Housing Partnership, counted the contractors who worked on the recently completed $5.5 million renovation of the former Arthur’s department store in Morrisville: 12 engineers, architects, attorneys, funders, and others were involved from the outset, some 30 contractors, engineers, laborers, and trucking and waste management personnel were responsible for environmental cleanup, and construction called for 50 or so carpenters, electricians, plumbers, HVAC contractors, painters, masons, and landscapers. Think of the impact these people had on the economic well-being of Morrisville while construction was underway.

At the Champlain Housing Trust, the largest of Vermont’s nonprofit housing organizations, we are stewards for property worth approximately $300 million — and with the exception of a small handful of properties that serve the most vulnerable, all of our properties pay taxes. In fact, a recent development in Shelburne illustrates this benefit. A property that previously contributed approximately $12,000 in taxes is now home to more than 80 homes and pays about $90,000 in property taxes.

The Housing Trust uses 750 vendors a year and generates $90 million worth of economic activity annually through our property management, development, lending, and other mission-driven activities. That’s robust for our economy,and important for the stability of people we serve.

The bottom line: affordable housing adds more than safe and secure housing for those who need it. Affordable housing contributes greatly to the economic well-being of our communities.

To view the full article, click here.

 



Burlington Mayor’s Office Presents Housing Action Plan

Posted April 14, 2015

Last night, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger presented his Housing Action Plan to the City Council and members of the public. The article below from the Burlington Free Press discusses this presentation of the plan and challenges that lie ahead:

A far-reaching plan to improve housing in Burlington will likely get more public input before it gets City Council approval.

Public comment and discussion among councilors Monday night tilted toward extending a final decision by at least a month — an inclination recognized by Council President Jane Knodell, P-Central District.

The proposed Housing Action Plan addresses challenges in affordability, accessibility, financing, parking and the impact of college and university students.

In his written introduction to the plan, Mayor Miro Weinberger termed the policy as “a re-commitment” to housing, a re-framing of long-standing goals; and an outline of goals that does not bind the city to any specific actions or expenditures.

On Monday night, the plan received kudos and criticism from about a dozen speakers.

Kirby Dunn, executive director of HomeShare Vermont, praised the initiatives breadth, and its sense of urgency.

“I think we should move on the plan and move on it quickly,” Dunn said. “I’m thrilled that it’s moving forward.”

Kelly Devine, executive director of the Burlington Business Association, likewise called for its passage — which until Monday, had been scheduled for City Council’s meeting on April 27.

“There isn’t enough housing stock for pretty much every segment of our community. It’s hurting our ability to thrive and grow,” Devine said.

Knodell recommended the council wait until after a public information meeting scheduled for May 7 at Contois Auditorium by the All Wards Neighborhood Planning Assembly (NPA).

That deadline extension suited Charles Simpson, among those who spoke against early adoption.

In an email to city councilors, the Ward-6 resident said the housing plan reduced the problem to a question of supply and demand.

Instead, Simpson said, the city should focus on “building community rather than incentivizing opportunities for speculative development.”

Lifting restrictions for on-site parking, he added, “is simply a gift to developers and a punishment to neighborhoods that will have to absorb much of this parking at a social and practical cost.”

Simpson and others questioned some of the plan’s presentation of statistics, including the number of off-campus university students.

The plan’s draft form was drawn up over the past six month with administrators and with the council’s Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization Committee, then chaired by Knodell.

Housing hurdles:

Still in-progress, Burlington’s “Housing Action Plan” compiles an ambitious list of goals for a city noted for old and highly priced housing stock.

A summary of those goals:

  • Re-examine regulations that have slowed development and redevelopment of housing (including rules that dictate parking, restrict designs and use; and impose high building fees).
  • Firm up policies that would expand support (financial and regulatory) for low- and moderate-income housing.
  • Reduce impact of college and university students on housing in the city.
  • Support measures to reduce chronic homelessness (by prioritizing housing as a platform for addressing other economic and health issues); and explore a “low-barrier” shelter that would accommodate people under the influence.
  • Increase housing options for the elderly, through new accessibility standards and “accessory dwellings” on a property (often termed “mother-in-law apartments).

Upcoming:

  • City Council will again disucss the Housing Action Plan at its meeting on April 27.
  • An All-Wards Neighborhood Planning Assembly “Housing Summit” is planned for May 7.

To view the entire article, click here. For further coverage, including video, visit WPTZ News here and Seven Days here. To view the entire draft of the Housing Action Plan, 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.

 



Demers Interview: Vermont is Home to Plenty Barely Scraping By

Posted April 21, 2014

In Vermont the population is about 626,000. One in every ten Vermonters, or 70,000, are classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as living in poverty.

The Burlington Free Press recently interviewed Jan Demers, the executive director of Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), on poverty in the state.  Read the full interview here:

BFP: Could you identify some of the causes of poverty?
Jan Demers: Unemployment, underemployment, lack of education or skill, disability, sudden or chronic health or mental health issues affecting self or family, high medical bills, loss of transportation, loss of federal dollars which undergird section 8 vouchers and stabilized housing.
BFP: What populations are chiefly affected?
JD: That is an interesting question. We, as a society, don’t talk about poverty in a personal sense. Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University, says that his research shows that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the federal poverty level in their lives and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty.  If you add in welfare use and unemployment, four out of five Americans will experience poverty in their lives. That seems like an absurd figure, but then, think about your own life and the lives of those you know.

I can relate to having spent more than a year and a half below the federal poverty level. I would say taking that into consideration that the vast majority of households and individuals in our communities know what it feels like to live in poverty. All of our populations are affected.

Some statistics for those people we serve:

• The largest group we serve are employed, but under employed.
• Most of the people are single but the next largest group are female single parents with one child.
• They rent, own their home or are homeless.
• The largest group is at 50 percent of the federal poverty level and has a high school degree. Eleven
percent of those we serve have had some post secondary education.
• The largest group we serve has Medicaid for health insurance but 17 percent have no insurance at all.  That will change with VT Health Connect.
•Half of the households we serve have a car and most of the people we serve are white. We also serve New Americans, refugees and immigrants, veterans and those who have disabilities.

BFP: How does poverty take root?
JD: Poverty can happen in an instant with the loss of a job, or loss of health insurance, the onset of a chronic disease or the death of a family member.  For someone whose life hovers on the edge of poverty, a major car repair can tip the balance causing potential job loss and housing instability. Poverty is a definite and delicate domino process. It takes an inordinate amount of effort and resources to re-establish stability.

There is an interesting new book out entitled “Scarcity” by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Their premise is based on scarcity, which can be related to several life experiences: lack of time, lack of health, lack of resources just to name a few.  One of the symptoms of scarcity is the person’s view is limited and focused on the area of pain. When someone is hungry in Vermont they will be successful finding food but it may take an entire day focused on the scarcity and not on the change needed to prevent another day of hunger.  We know that because of the state’s policy of addressing homelessness in Vermont. In the winter families may find a roof over their heads at night. However, it generally takes all day to get that bed, and there is very little time left to address the larger problem. Breaking the downward trajectory takes intervention.

Read the full interview online here or in PDF format.

 



Colchester residents to vote on wastewater improvements for mobile home park

Posted June 5, 2013

Voters in Colchester are deciding on going forward with a plan to help enhance a wastewater system at the Windemere Estates Mobile Home Park, located between St. Michael’s College and Camp Johnson, and home to about 200 low-to-moderate income individuals. The improvements would be made possible by a $500,000 bond through the property owner, Housing Foundation Inc., a nonprofit affordable housing organization.

Link to Full Burlington Free Press Article 
Link to Full VPR Article 

 



Shared equity program helps bridge financial gap for homebuyers

Posted April 11, 2013

Reposted from the Burlington Free Press, March 28, 2013.

“Before moving to Vermont from Southern California in August, Steve and Rachel Smith had moved about seven times since their 8-year-old son Avery was born, including four times before he was two. Two moves were in the past six months….

Last week, the couple moved into the yellow split-level house on Palmer Court off Shelburne Road, listed for $210,000, that they bought with the help of a $48,000 down payment from the Champlain Housing Trust’s shared equity program. For buyers like the Smiths, who couldn’t afford a house on the open market, the Trust provides the money they need to get into a home…”

Link to Full Burlington Free Press 

View PDF of Full Burlington Free Press

Rachel and Steve Smith, and their son, Avery, have been able to buy their first home, in Shelburne, with help from the Champlain Housing Trust. / GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS

 

 



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