A unique effort in Brattleboro is using town funding to help local homeowners become landlords.
According to the non-profit Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing, the vacancy rate in Brattleboro is about one-tenth the statewide average and housing costs are high.
Since 2003, the group has tried to address the shortage through a program called Apartments in Homes.
Under the program, Brattleboro homeowners can receive up to $4,000 to convert part of a dwelling into an apartment.
Seventy-five percent of the money comes from the town and the remainder from the affordable housing group.
It’s a win-win-win proposition, says Tyler Maas of Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing, “with people getting affordable housing, homeowners generating income and the town of Brattleboro generating tax base.”
The grant money isn’t enough to pay for the cost of building the apartment, which can range from $8,000 to $45,000, so it requires an investment by the homeowner that can run into the thousands of dollars.
Maas says a typical project can pay for itself in five years or less. Once that occurs, the rent can help homeowners pay their property taxes.
Maas says there hasn’t been a rush of people trying to take advantage of the program, but interest from homeowners has been steady.
Since it started, the program has helped fund the creation of 45 apartment in and around Brattleboro.
Other communities in Vermont have tried similar programs but without Brattleboro’s success.
“The Brattleboro program is definitely the most extensive and, as far as I can tell, the longest running. Other programs have been relatively short-lived in the state,” says Shaun Gilpin, housing policy specialist with the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development.
Gilpen says managing rental property presents challenges for homeowners, but avoid many issues that come up with absentee landlords. He says programs like Brattleboro’s can contribute to the vitality of a community.
The Brattleboro program has been receiving town funding for most of the 12 years it’s been in existence. Gilpin believes one key to the longevity of the program is the support services the program offers to homeowners who receive the grants.
“One thing that’s particularly important is, along with the financial assistance, to have technical assistance, a little bit of hand-holding for homeowners who are thinking about doing this,” he says.
The Brattleboro Apartments in Homes programs works with homeowners over the course of a project. It recruits students from the local high schools architectural drafting program to help design apartments, and provides homeowners with lists of contractors and information on tenant law.