Village Haven, Residential Planned Neighborhood in Essex Junction Vermont

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No Place Like Home

No place like home Vermont Neighborhoods Program addresses affordable-housing shortage

By John R. Dolan, February 2009, from Champlain Business Journal

“Many developers would prefer to build in town center areas, but sometimes the cost to do so can be prohibitive. The Vermont Neighborhoods Program offers one way to mitigate some of those costs, and it will certainly spark interest in areas that may have otherwise not seemed cost-effective to build on.” — Brad Dousevicz, owner, Dousevicz Inc.

Vermont faces a pair of closely related conundrums when it comes to new housing:

  • How to tackle the housing shortage without letting such development eat away at the rural landscape?
  • How to fill the most dire need — affordable housing — when it is more expensive and difficult for developers to build near the middle of town?

Enter the Vermont Neighborhoods Program. This initiative, based on Governor James Douglas’ New Neighborhoods proposal and approved by the Legislature as part of Act 176 in May 2008, seeks to stimulate housing development in and around downtowns, village centers and other growth areas.

The program emphasizes the need for affordable housing.

“The data indicates that Vermont has a substantial housing shortage, particularly in the mid- to low-cost range,” Kevin Dorn, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, told Champlain Business Journal in late December.

“While publicly funded programs and the nonprofit housing sector have been producing traditional subsidized ‘affordable’ housing developments,” he said, “we have not adequately addressed the needs of many middle-income, working Vermonters. We simply have not been building new housing in their price range.”

The median price of a home built in Vermont in 2007 was $317,900, an increase of about 20 percent over five years earlier. The 2008 edition of Between A Rock And A Hard Place, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency’s annual report tracking housing costs versus wages in the state, says that a family would need an income of $103,000 and $21,000 in closing costs to afford such a home.

The median household income in Vermont is about half of that ($51,622), according to the same report.

Thus the most pressing need, Dorn said, is to build homes for those who earn too little to afford the median price but earn too much to qualify for publicly subsidized housing.

Vermont Neighborhoods is barely off the ground, but developers and consultants have partnered with communities to propose several housing projects in Chittenden and Windsor counties. These proposals were already in planning stages prior to Vermont Neighborhoods, but seek to take advantage of the program’s benefits and to meet its requirements.

The Village Haven housing project in Essex Junction, for example, was approved for Vermont Neighborhoods designation just before Christmas. The 24-unit proposal by Dousevicz Inc. was the first to apply for designation under the new program, and the first to receive approval in late December.

Proposals in Winooski and Shelburne, so far unidentified, may soon follow with applications.

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