Mixed results in first year of Building Homes Together campaign

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Mixed results in first year of Building Homes Together campaign

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 4:45pm -- tim

Artist rendering of Allard Square in South Burlington.

by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine A campaign to aggressively increase housing in Chittenden County is meeting overall production targets, but is falling short on the percentage that are affordable. The Building Homes Together (BHT) campaign has set a target of 3,500 new homes to be constructed over five years, with 20 percent of them being permanently affordable. In 2016, Chittenden County saw a net increase of 916 new homes including accessory dwellings, assisted living apartments, apartments and homes for sale. This is nearly twice the average annual production of homes during the past five years. Despite this increase, there were only 69 new affordable homes added in 2016, or 8 percent of the total.

Governor Phil Scott joined municipal officials, nonprofit leaders, lawmakers and housing developers Wednesday morning in South Burlington to applaud progress toward meeting residential building targets in Chittenden County, while acknowledging that more needs to be done to increase the number of affordable apartments and for-sale homes available to working people. The campaign goals are supported by over 100 community leaders and public officials.

BHT was launched by the Champlain Housing Trust, Housing Vermont and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission in 2016.

“The construction of new homes is an important part of our efforts to increase availability of affordable housing statewide, and is great for our economy, employers and citizens. I am pleased to see progress made in Chittenden County, but we have more work to do here and across Vermont,” said Governor Phil Scott. “This data illustrates our continued need for more moderately priced homes to ensure Chittenden County is affordable for low and middle-income Vermonters. I believe the $35 million Housing for All bond I proposed, and the legislature passed, this year will help us make more progress in Chittenden County, and across the state.”

The goal of the bond is to provide both housing for the vulnerable and create more homes for workers. By statute, 25 percent of the housing created by the bond must be affordable to households at 80-120 percent of the area median income; 25 percent of the housing must be affordable to those below 50 percent of the median. And the balance can be anywhere up to 120 percent of the median based on the local needs, housing markets and the other resources available for funding.

Most housing programs define affordable as housing that costs 30 percent of a household’s income for a household at 80 percent of the area median or below. 

The BHT campaign uses certificate of occupancy data collected directly from municipalities as the basis for the reported numbers. Looking ahead, it appears there will be approximately 360 new rentals added to the market in 2017 with 52 of them affordable. There are no accurate data available to project the number of new homes for sale that will be occupied in 2017.

Charlie Baker, Executive Director of the CCRPC, Brenda Torpy of the Champlain Housing Trust and Governor Phil Scott. VBM photo.

The housing bond proceeds will be used for capital – construction or rehabilitation of housing.

In 2018, the first affordable homes will be built using that $35 million bond funding authorized by the Legislature this year. Nonprofit organizations described willingness to build over 300 affordable homes almost immediately. The $35 million could leverage upwards of $100 million in total capital.

“The data show us that, yes, there has been a building boom in Chittenden County this year,” said Charlie Baker, Executive Director of the CCRPC. “However, the July vacancy rate of 2.5 percent is still lower than we’d like to see for a healthy housing market. Rents also continue to rise at almost 4 percent a year.”

He said even 3,500 units isn't really enough. For iinstance, he said, as people move through their lives at times they up-size and as they get older they might downsize and the current housing stock isn't flexible enough to accommodate changing needs.

“There’s an imbalance in the market. We really need an influx of capital if we are truly going to make Chittenden County more affordable,” added Nancy Owens, President of Housing Vermont.

“We get more than 10 applications for every available apartment,” said Brenda Torpy of the Champlain Housing Trust. “If we are going to house our workforce or eliminate homelessness and protect the most vulnerable, the time is now to invest.”

Torpy said that while vacancy rates overall are very low, as Baker pointed out, the vacancy rate for affordable units is effectively zero in Chittenden County.

Torpy mentioned that once affordable housing is established as part of this campaign it remains as such as part of the housing stock. 

She also emphasized in her remarks that while one goal of economic development officials is to increase higher-wage jobs, lower wage jobs are vital to the overall economy and the people in those jobs – retail, health care support, entry-level services – need a place an affordable place live that is nearby their place of work.

"These are the folks we're seeking to serve," she said.

More to that point, Baker added, "It's important to develop housing in the right place."

The BHT campaign held its announcement on Market Street in South Burlington, site of the long-planned City Center. Multiple buildings are planned by developer Snyder Homes over the next several years, said City Manager Kevin Dorn. The first to be built is Allard House, senior housing that will be owned and managed by Cathedral Square. It features 39 one- and two-family apartments at affordable and market rates.

Ground breaking is expected in the next two weeks on Allard House, which will be near the DMV off Market Street and close to services, retail and public transportation.

Dorn also pointed out that there are typically many funding sources. Dorn formerly was state Commerce Secretary under Governor Douglas. 

Dorn read off the organizations behind the $10 million Allard development: VHFA, People's United Bank, Vermont Community Develpment Program, Veront Housinig & Conservation Board, HOME Investment Partnership, South Burlington Housing Trust Fund, TD Charitable Foundation, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinnberg Foundation.

"None of these projects are funded by just one source," he said.

The regulatory forces include inclusionary zoning ordinances in Burlington and South Burlington. Some municipalities allow density bonuses for developments that include a certain percentage of affordable units.  Also, projects that include a certain percentage of affordable housing, if in state designated areas, qualify as priority housing projects and can go through a somewhat streamlined Act 250 process.

According to information provided by VHCB, Vermont’s Roadmap to End Homelessness calls for 368 units of permanent supportive housing and 1,251 new homes affordable at 30 percent of median or below by 2022.

Vermont Futures Project of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce set an annual growth target of 5,000 new and improved housing units statewide.

Vermont’s statewide housing needs assessment by Bowen National Research found the largest gaps in affordable housing were for households below 30 percent of median household income and for those between 85 percent and 120 percent of median, although need was across the income spectrum.

When asked if the state could expand beyond the $35 million, Scott said he would see how this program went before going back to the Legislature to ask for more money. Bonding has a cost and the state must be judicious in how much it uses, he said. There were several local legislators in attendance.

In prepared statements, other officials who were not at the press conference said of the Building Homes Together campaign:

Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe

“It takes many strategies over many years to make progress on the big stuff like our chronic housing shortage. Several years ago, Ginny Lyons and I worked hard with the South Burlington City team to enable the creation of South Burlington's TIF district. We applaud them for making the vision a reality. Despite criticism from some partisan groups, the Legislature maintained funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board when it was under threat, steadily expanded the Downtown and Village Credit program, funded an innovative down payment assistance program at VHFA, and so much more. Without this foundation in place, the goal of 3,500 new homes would be a pipe dream. It’s important to recognize the critical role public investment plays in meeting community needs.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger

“The road to greater housing affordability and remaining an equitable, diverse community requires both increased housing opportunities for our most vulnerable and getting our land use policies right to encourage much greater production of new homes overall. Burlington is committed to this dual strategy and is grateful for its partnership with the Building Homes Together coalition pushing for the same solutions countywide. With the passage of last year’s Housing For All bond, major projects underway throughout the county, and growing awareness of the importance of increasing Chittenden County homes, this crucial effort has exciting momentum.”

Source: Building Homes Together www.ecosproject.com/building-homes-together/ 9.27.2017

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