Senator Leahy, Secretary Castro and others discuss affordable housing at Burlington City Hall on Thursday. Courtesy photo.
Vermont Business Magazine Underscoring Vermont’s success in leveraging federal resources and partnerships to improve access to affordable housing in Vermont’s rural communities, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) Thursday hosted a public roundtable discussion with community leaders and US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julián Castro. After the roundtable discussion, Leahy and Castro took part in the opening of the Bright Street Co-op, new rental housing developed by the Champlain Housing Trust and Housing Vermont with funding from VHCB. The Co-op is a 40-unit affordable housing cooperative in Burlington’s Old North End.
In his opening remarks at the forum, Secretary Castro announced that Vermont would be one of the first states in the nation to receive funding from the National Housing Trust Fund. Vermont had submitted a proposal to HUD for $3 million, which Leahy and others have been advocating for since 2008 when the Fund was created. The Housing Trust Fund is the only federal program that provides new money to specifically expand affordable rental housing to extremely low-income households, most of which fall below the federal poverty line.
Leahy said: “Few states have led as Vermont has led in making affordable housing a priority. In Vermont we know that our ability to build stronger depends on our ability to first build together. Successful strategies to achieve affordable housing are like a three-legged stool, including adding affordable housing stock, rental subsidies, and support services to those who need it most. In Vermont we believe in housing first, and this visit is a valued opportunity to showcase our successes as well as share our needs with Secretary Castro during his first visit to the Green Mountain State.”
Secretary Castro said: "Every person deserves a safe, stable place to call home. HUD’s Housing Trust Fund allocation will give severely low-income families in Vermont more affordable housing options that provide better access to good jobs and quality education. Senator Leahy has championed this issue in Congress and is a key ally in addressing our nation’s affordable housing crisis. HUD is proud to partner with Senator Leahy and the state of Vermont today to help build more inclusive communities of opportunity for tomorrow."
Senator Leahy, Mayor Weinberger and Secretary Castro, speaking, join with others to officially open the Bright Street Co-op. Courtesy photo.
opening High costs and the limited availability of safe and affordable housing are barriers for Vermont families trying to make a home. As a leading member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy has made affordable housing, preserving Vermont’s historic downtowns and combatting homelessness a high priority of his work in the Senate. Last year he prevented a catastrophic 93 percent cut to the federal HOME program, which provides funding to states to build new affordable housing. Leahy each year also leads efforts in the Senate to support the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and NeighborWorks programs, which have supported development projects in Vermont including parent-child centers, senior housing and rebuilding after Tropical Storm Irene.
Joined by Vermont emergency shelter providers, affordable housing advocates and developers, the roundtable panelists assembled in Contois Auditorium described how federal HUD programs have helped the state meet its goals of increasing homeownership and have resulted in a 25 percent decrease in chronic homelessness from last year. Leahy made clear that despite these accomplishments, he wanted to work with HUD to ensure that such programs remained flexible to the uniquely rural needs of Vermont housing and service providers.
Panel members included Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and leaders from Champlain Housing Trust, the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, the Vermont State Housing Authority, Housing Vermont, the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, and the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness.
The Vermont Legislature designated VHCB to administer the program based on the agency’s effective track record using federal funds to benefit Vermonters and their communities.
VHCB Executive Director Gus Seelig said, “The National Housing Trust Fund will help address the pent up demand and backlog of affordable homes waiting to be developed. These funds will supplement state, federal and private funding, increasing Vermont’s ability to create more affordable rental housing for our most vulnerable citizens.”
The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board makes grants and loans to non-profit organizations, state agencies and municipalities for the development of affordable housing and for the conservation of agricultural and recreational lands, natural areas, forestland and historic properties.
Following the roundtable, Leahy and Castro traveled to the Bright Street Housing Cooperative in Burlington’s Old North End. The much anticipated 40-unit building was developed by Housing Vermont and the Champlain Housing Trust and includes partnership federal funding from HUD programs including HOME, CDBG, NeighborWorks America, as well as more than $7 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
The Bright Street Cooperative allows mixed-income residents to establish a sense of ownership in the places they call home. One such resident, Bree LeMay and her son, Niah, spoke at the building’s opening. LeMay, “a single woman raising my son,” said that despite working hard in their communities, many people are priced out of housing in the area.
LeMay said: “This project is such a big deal for our community, because it’s allowing people from all walks of life and financial situations to feel empowered by taking ownership of our home. Being a single woman with a son can be a stressful situation. The co-op has offered me an affordable rent and pride in knowing that I’m a part of something bigger.”
Senator Bernie Sanders first introduced legislation to create the National Housing Trust Fund in 2001, based on the success of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund, and helped lead a 15-year fight to pass and fund the law.
Sanders said, "While the economy has certainly improved since the Great Recession, far too many people in Vermont and across the country are still struggling to get by on stagnant wages. Many pay 50 percent or more of their limited incomes to keep a roof over their heads, leaving little for food, childcare, transportation and health care. The Housing Trust Fund money couldn't come too soon, as it will help get us a little closer to the day when all Vermonters have safe, decent and affordable housing."
President of Housing Vermont Nancy Owens concluded the event: “We thank Senator Leahy for his strong leadership on affordable housing and community issues.” She added, “We also welcome the opportunity to show Secretary Castro how this rural state utilizes HUD and other public and private funds to construct affordable housing in a way which advances so many other sound public policies. But most of all we welcome the families who will be living in Burlington’s newest housing cooperative.”
BURLINGTON, Vt. (THURSDAY, Sept. 1, 2016) – Leahy