Chittenden County housing leaders, joined by Congressman Peter Welch, Vermont Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, announced today that one of two housing production goals was being met for the county, indicating mixed results for the second year in a row. The Building Homes Together campaign, supported by over 100 local and state leaders, stayed on pace to create 3,500 new homes over five years but is falling short of a target of 700 new permanently affordable homes by the end of 2020.
“Every Vermonter should have the peace of mind that comes with a safe and affordable home. The Building Homes Together campaign has brought us a few steps closer to that goal. Today, we celebrate its success and recommit to the work ahead of us,” Congressman Peter Welch told the assembled crowd.
“Over the first two years of this five year campaign we’ve seen an uptick in housing production with over 1,600 net new homes added to our housing stock,” explained Charlie Baker, Executive Director of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, one of the three groups coordinating the campaign. “The homes are being absorbed by the market and it is clear to us that we must continue to build at this pace or greater to satisfy the housing needs of the region.”
Vacancy rates remain below what is viewed as a healthy market, with the latest report pegging vacancy at 1.7% in July, 2018. Market analysts usually look for a rate closer to 5%.
While the overall construction goals being met demonstrate a strong housing market, the inability to meet the affordable targets concerns many. “There’s a tremendous, pent up need for housing that is affordable to low-income individuals and families,” said Brenda Torpy, CEO of Champlain Housing Trust, another leader in the campaign. “We need to increase the affordable production if we want communities that are inclusive to all.” There have been 191 permanently affordable homes created over the past two years – well shy of 140 per year needed to reach 700 in five years.
Representative Mitzi Johnson, Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, added, “Every Vermonter deserves the opportunity of a home they can afford. A stable home is critical for children to learn, for workers to hold down jobs, for people to succeed in addiction recovery, and to build strong, healthy communities. We’re making good progress through such efforts as the Housing for All bond passed by the Legislature last year. But we can’t rest – we have much more work ahead to ensure all Vermonters have access to safe, affordable housing.”
“The lack of housing supply remains our largest regional challenge. Robust housing growth in the cities and towns of Chittenden County strengthens our schools, makes us more equitable, and reduces our climate impact by allowing people to live closer to neighbors, services, and workplaces rather than farther out into Vermont's hills and pastures,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “If we are serious about making housing a human right, we must continue to work to break down the barriers to building new and affordable housing.”
The overall production numbers include all new apartments, condominiums, single family homes, and accessory dwellings that received their certificate of occupancy in 2016 or 2017. Homes that have been demolished – and there were nearly 100 in 2017 – were subtracted from the total. Not included in the count was the impact of student housing. Over this period, the University of Vermont demolished two dormitories (391 beds), but replaced them with a new dorm (695 beds) for a net gain of on campus housing.
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe reflected back over the last couple of years. “We set an ambitious new housing target when we got together for the kick off of this initiative. We’ve made good headway, and the Senate is committed to keeping up the momentum. As someone with a housing development background I know how many hurdles any housing project needs to get over. So the progress we’ve all made together is worth celebrating.”
Nancy Owens, President of Housing Vermont, the third organization leading the Building Homes Together campaign, expressed some hope for the future. “The impact of Vermont’s $37 million Housing for All revenue bond will soon start to be felt. New senior housing is wrapping up in South Burlington, and CHT and Housing Vermont are under construction with 136 new apartments that will be completed in 2019. But,” she cautioned, “It’s still not enough.”
The campaign called for increased investment through local trust funds at the community level and full funding of state sources like the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, offered support for zoning changes in communities that want to address the shortage of housing, and said that planning for a second housing bond – the original proposal by the groups included a $70 million version – should begin now as the benefits and needs are clear.The Building Homes Together campaign was initiated by the Champlain Housing Trust, Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and Housing Vermont in 2016. The campaign’s goal is to increase the production of housing, setting a target of 3,500 new homes created over next five years, with 700 of them permanently affordable. Over 100 local and state officials signed on to the campaign. More information can be found at http://www.ecosproject.com/building-homes-together/.
Members of the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance and Mayor Miro Weinberger today announced more progress towards their shared goal of eliminating homelessness in Chittenden County, with this year’s Point in Time count indicating a 12% drop in the number of homeless individuals. This progress includes a reduction in both the number of families experiencing homelessness and those who are chronically homeless. The 12% drop brings the overall decrease in homelessness to 45% over the past four years. The January count found 291 people in shelters, other temporary housing options, or completely unsheltered.
“The reduction this year, and for the past three years running, is a testament to collaboration and making sure we all have our eyes on the same prize,” said Erin Ahearn of the Community Health Centers of Burlington and a co-chair of the Homeless Alliance. “We have steadily decreased homelessness across all demographics and can see a future where homelessness is rare and brief.”
The Point in Time count is completed at the end of January each year in communities across the country. The count offers an opportunity to collect data on not only the numbers of people experiencing homelessness, but additional information such as household size, numbers living with mental illness or substance dependency, or the number of veterans without permanent housing. In this way, the count not only provides an ability to evaluate progress year-over-year, but also helps identify where services and resources may be deployed better.
“This third year in a row of decreases is an indication that the public investments to reduce and eliminate homelessness are working. There’s more work to do – but the fact that we’re making progress signals to us that we will succeed in meeting our goal of eliminating homelessness with additional investment in new housing, services and rental assistance,” added Margaret Bozik of the Champlain Housing Trust and the other co-chair of the Alliance.
“I am encouraged to see how much progress we have made as a community to address homelessness by focusing resources on the most vulnerable and pursuing innovative new strategies,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “I have great hope that with our continued collaboration we can bring an end to homelessness in Chittenden County. The $35 million Housing Bond proposal in front of the Legislature would be a big boost towards that goal.”
Progress towards ending homelessness in Chittenden County has benefited from Housing First strategies spearheaded members of the Alliance, adopted as policy by the City of Burlington in 2015, and supported by many partners, which focus resources on addressing the needs of the chronically homeless.
Several key projects have helped individuals experiencing homelessness find permanent housing over the last several years:
- In 2013, Champlain Housing Trust’s Harbor Place, a motel in Shelburne which offers supportive services, opened and has not only saved money but been more effective at helping people find permanent housing than the simple motel voucher program.
- Beacon Apartments in South Burlington opened by the Champlain Housing Trust and Community Health Centers of Burlington in early 2015 with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), United Way of Northwest Vermont, University of Vermont Medical Center, and Shelter plus Care vouchers administered by the Burlington Housing Authority. Beacon Apartments houses and supports 19 individuals who were chronically homeless and who had medical vulnerabilities.
- Community Health Centers of Burlington ran a low-barrier warming shelter this past winter, building on the work of COTS and the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity the previous two winters.
- With the support of the City of Burlington, Housing Vermont and state funders like VHCB, the Committee on Temporary Shelter reopened its Daystation in April, 2017. In the same building 14 new apartments were constructed, four of which are dedicated to people who were formerly homeless.
- The Champlain Housing Trust and the University of Vermont Medical Center are turning the Bel Aire Motel to into apartments for people who have been homeless or are unable to be discharged from a hospital bed for lack of a better option. The Community Health Centers of Burlington will provide services on site.
- Several communities are looking to using local Housing Trust Funds to address housing challenges: the Town of Williston is exploring creating a new trust fund, the City of South Burlington established one in 2014, and the City of Burlington has doubled its contribution to its housing trust fund.
In addition to this year’s 12% drop in the number of homeless individuals, the Chittenden County Point in Time count demonstrated several other positive trends. Since 2015, progress has been made by:
- Decreasing chronic homelessness by 56%;
- Lowering family homelessness by 29%;
- Reducing homelessness among people with severe mental illness by 42%; and
- Dropping incidence of homelessness with those affected by substance use disorder by 70%.
In spite of this progress, nearly 300 individuals continue to live without homes in Chittenden County. The Alliance and Mayor Weinberger urged leaders in Montpelier to pass the proposed $35 million dollar Housing Bond to support future efforts to address the needs of homeless individuals, or individuals at risk of becoming homeless, in Chittenden County.
When we think of affordable housing, we often think of the benefits that people living there receive: a secure, safe place to live that meets their budget and where they can set and achieve their goals. But there's a significant economic impact from which we all benefit -- jobs, sales and payroll taxes, local economic development and vibrant communities.
In Housing and the Economy: The Statewide Ripple Effect, we tell this story of how affordable housing development and preservation adds value to the bottom line, with real examples from communities across the state. It's the fifth and final in our series of papers describing the intersection of housing with other public policy priorities.
(photo credit: Sally McKay)
We had a 9% increase in homelessness in Vermont last year and while some of it is visible, many people are in hotels, hospitals, couch surfing or even in prisons without a home. In Opening Doors, Closing Gaps, we explore some of the challenges, data, and -- most importantly -- solutions we can pursue. It's the latest in our series of papers demonstrating the connection of housing with other public policy priorities or state government spending. The relationship between housing and homelessness might seem more obvious than say education or health to many, but we need renewed focus to solve the problem.
photo credit: www.matthewthorsen.com
As we've been exploring in our series of papers, the need for affordable housing is much more important than just having safe and decent place to call home. It has an impact on education, health and other barometers of community well-being. We now turn our attention to the connection between housing and the workforce -- which Lisa Falcone of Working Bridges claims "is a big issue for a lot of workers in Vermont." To download this latest report, click here [PDF].
photo credit: CC image Cafe Croissant by Julie Kertez - Flickr
In the second of a series of papers on how affordable housing impacts other pieces of our lives, the connection between health and housing is becoming better understood. In Housing and Health: The Importance of Place, we delve into some of these impacts. As Megan Sandel, M.D., M.P.H., and Deborah Frank, M.D. write, "For many of our patients, a safe, decent, affordable home is like a vaccine—it literally keeps children healthy.”
Photo credit: CC image Older man and nurse using blood pressure by Tunstall on Flickr [cropped]
A new paper was released today that highlights the intersection of affordable housing and education, and the benefits that an affordable home provides kids in terms of their ability to learn in school. In the report, Rebecca Haslam, an elementary school teacher, is quoted saying, "Kids experiencing housing challenges feel disconnected from their communities, which is even more damaging to their ability to access the academics... they're just not ready."
Housing and Education: Putting the Pieces Together is the first in a series of papers on the value affordable housing offers the people and communities across the State of Vermont. For more information, contact Chris Donnelly at the Champlain Housing Trust or Kenn Sassorossi at Housing Vermont.
(Photo credit: CC image Student Writing 2002 by cybrarian77 on Flickr)