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NLIHC Memo to Members Article: Vermont Advocates Celebrate Multiple Wins in Legislative Session

The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC), an NLIHC state coalition partner, is celebrating multiple victories coming out of the state’s legislative session. Despite challenges brought by a five-year budget defi cit and fl ood damage from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, several homeless and affordable housing programs received increased funding. Advocates also are heartened by Governor Peter Shumlin’s decision to make housing and addressing homelessness top priorities for the second year in a row. “We are incredibly fortunate to have a governor and legislative leaders who understand that housing is a basic human need without which no one can succeed, and that homelessness prevention saves the state money in the long run,” said Erhard Mahnke, VAHC’s coordinator. “Th ey also know that investing public dollars in permanently aff ordable housing makes good economic sense and increases the sustainability of our rural villages and small cities.” Major legislation broadly infl uencing aff ordable housing, S.99, passed this session and provides support to mobile home communities and advances eff orts to preserve the Vermont’s aff ordable housing stock. VAHC and its partners worked closely with state legislators on the bill’s language and successfully infl uenced the legislature to secure its passage. The bill directs the Department of Economic Housing and Community Development to work with stakeholders to develop a plan to help mobile home communities become resistant to natural disasters. Mobile homes were especially vulnerable in the 2011 storm, which destroyed or damaged more than 3,500 Vermont homes, including more than 500 mobile homes. Th e plan must include methods to identify barriers to mobile home ownership and assess the potential loss of mobile home parks and their aff ordability. Also included was an amendment to the state’s Mobile Home Park Statute, which extends from 90 to 120 days the time that residents can negotiate for the purchase of a mobile home park. Coupled with technical assistance funds, this provision is designed to encourage the creation of resident-owned mobile home cooperatives. S.99 also includes a major change to the state’s Fair Housing Act by adding income as a protected class to address discrimination in land use decisions, and to protect aff ordable housing developments from discrimination during the permitting process. Th is amendment was included to address pushback in areas where storm-damaged mobile home communities may need to relocate. Advocates and lawmakers believe the amendment, modeled after similar provisions in Florida and North Carolina state law, is perhaps the most protective legislation against income discrimination in the nation. As a companion to S.99, Governor Shumlin supported and the legislature approved an expansion of the Vermont Aff ordable Housing Tax Credit. Th e expansion permanently increases from $100,000 to $300,000 the fi rst-year amount of state tax credits the state’s housing fi nance fgency can issue for owner-occupied housing. Because the tax credit is a fi ve-year credit, the annual award represents an additional $1 million in credits. It is expected to raise $900,000 in equity annually, intended initially to help fund a new statewide aff ordable mobile home fi nancing program spearheaded by VAHC and Champlain Housing Trust, an NLIHC member. Th e legislature appropriated $350,000 to help seed the program. Housing and homeless programs funded through the state’s General Fund also fared well. A new state rental assistance program will receive $730,000 to help alleviate homelessness. Advocates hope the program will cut down on expenditures for emergency motel vouchers. In addition, the budget includes $500,000 for another new rental assistance program for residents with mental health disabilities, operated by the Vermont State Housing Authority for the Agency of Human Services (AHS). Other AHS-administered housing assistance and supportive services programs received level or increased funding; they included an investment in off ender reentry housing, which has increased by more than 450% over the last four years. For the second year in a row, VAHC and its partners were successful in getting the legislature and governor to use state funds to replace $1.7 million in federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing funds, providing needed continued assistance to families on the verge of homelessness (see Memo, 5/20/11). Vermont’s Housing and Conservation Trust Fund was increased for a second year in a row, as well; its dedicated funding source—the property transfer tax—was restored following years of raids to help meet state budget gaps. Total funding in FY13 will be $14 million, a $1.2 million increase. Advocates attribute a large part of their success to the National Mortgage Settlement, which allocated $2.5 million to Vermont. Of that total, $1.1 million has been designated for housing and foreclosure counseling in FY13. For more information, contact Erhard Mahnke at erhardm@ vtaff

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