Vogel: Affordable Housing Initiative

Dec 27, 2018

About a year ago, Governor Phil Scott announced the sale of revenue bonds, representing the single, largest investment in affordable housing in Vermont’s history.

Vermont lawmakers set an ambitious goal of utilizing this money to create 550 to 650 affordable homes in the next two to three years. Now that we are at the halfway mark, I wondered how the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board or VHCB was doing in meeting these goals.

So far, VHCB has committed $21.8 million, or about 60% of the bond money, to 19 projects which will create or renovate 468 affordable homes. At that rate, they will surpass the 650 unit goal. VHCB also reports that the first 86 affordable homes are already completed and occupied and that the projects funded so far will leveraged $115 million in additional capital.

Beyond the numbers, it’s important to look at the actual projects. It’s easy to finance a lot of housing units if VHCB cherry picks the least expensive projects or ones where there is only a small funding gap. VHCB did not do that.

For example, several of the projects are in high cost areas like the Upper Valley and Burlington. It’s more expensive to build in these locations, but that is where the need for affordable housing is greatest and where the residents have better access to jobs.

Other projects, like the Putnam Block in Bennington, the Woolson Block in Springfield and the Clara Martin Center in Randolph will help revitalize those downtowns. And bond funds for some projects, like the renovation of a former motel in Brattleboro, have transformed that property into 22 apartments for the homeless.

As a result of this first housing bond, by the end of next year, hundreds of Vermont families will no longer live in overcrowded or deteriorated housing or face the threat of being without a home.

I hope the Governor and Vermont Legislator will look at how effective and efficient this program has been and seriously consider issuing a second housing bond—doubling down on their success.