Monday, December 25, 2017

Vermont Population Trends and Incomes--The Demographic Challenge

Vermont Population Trends and Incomes—The Demographic Challenge

For most all Vermont's 14 the current economic trends driven downwards by senior lower income households doubling over the two decade period 2010-2030 while under-65 households significantly decline.

The latest Census income estimates for Vermont—the five year period 2012-2016—show senior annual median incomes of $32,000 (rounded to the nearest thousand) 30% less than the median for all households, $56,104. These two income numbers become critical when looking at population growth and the Vermont economy.

For all of Vermont counties for the average of the two official state population projections growth of 3.1% is projected overall for the 2010-2030 period. With the state about a third of the way through the two decade projection period Vermont's flat growth is close to the lower projection. This bodes poorly for our overall economic performance as a doubling of senior population from 12% to 24% of total population with a far lower household income than non-seniors means absent other factors overall total income for Vermont declines. Already there are clear signs—even with the current national longest economic growth period since the Depression—that real declines are occurring in spending patterns of Vermont households.

Even the one Vermont county projected for significant overall population growth—Chittenden--is not immune to these trends. Chittenden population projections show monthly decline of 36 under-65 population versus an increase of 81 seniors. While Chittenden County is “growing,” that growth is only seniors while higher income non-senior income population declines. This suggests overall a slow economic decline in real terms for the State's population in terms of total household income and median income—all else being equal—and for Chittenden County a sluggish growth as best.

Statewide the senior population growth each and every year equals the Town of Stowe population and the loss of under 65 population equals a similar decline of population of that group equal to the population of the Town of Johnson—these trends projected to last the 2010 to 2030 period. Today and every day—10 less under 65 population and 12 more seniors.

While this decade clearly represents the best of economic times for Vermont some indicators already show a shifting of spending patterns in what is essentially a fairly flat income picture overall. For example, traffic growth shifted from a pattern of rapid growth in the 1980s to a peak in the early 1990s and on most urban and non-interstate areas a slow decline since the early 1990s. The shift from local retail to on-line buying comes into sharp relief with retail sales numbers for the year ending June 30, 2017 reported by the Vermont Tax Department (Seven Days, December 20, 2017, p 170) with Burlington 0% change, Williston -2% and South Burlington -4%. These numbers occurred during a period of about 2% inflation. These top Vermont retail centers not only reflect the “Amazon effect” of shifting retail sales to the internet, but also the spongy underlying demographics at play here in Vermont. The implications for State budgeting and spending, taxation policy, etc., are enormous. For a century Vermont population from the Civil War through 1960 remained between 300,000 and 400,000. The changes brought on by the interstate highways, the ski industry and baby boomer population growth fueled a population surge of over 50% to 625,700 in 2010 along with increased incomes and investment.  From 2010 Census estimates Vermont population declined just over 1,000 as of 2016, 624,600.  Now growth has subsided again and the composition of Vermont population strongly indicates a relative economic retreat and staid population numbers.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Chittenden County Rental Vacancy Data Background

Below find some historical data on Chittenden County rental vacancy rates and the recent 2015-2017 doubling of the recent history, 2010-2014, average of 1.4% to mid-2015 to mid-2017 of 3%.  That that 3% average is above the two-decade period of surveys of County rental vacancy rates done by the firm Allen and Brooks through 2014 when the highest rate semi-annual rate ever recorded was 2.7%.

Chittenden County rental vacancy rates information (from press reports of semi-annual Allen and Brooks rental and housing survey of Chittenden County)
--1995 to 2014 (36 semi-annual reports)--vacancy rate never above 3.0%
--peak rate to July 2015, 2.7%
--Average for 2016 3.25% (Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission)(
--recent rates (%)
Ave 2010-2014 1.4
June 2015 2.8 (highest since Allen and Brooks started surveys two decades ago)
December 2015 3.0
June 2016 2.1
December 2016 4.4
June 2017 2.5
June 2015-June 2017 3.0
--resurgence of housing construction in Burlington since 2013 (over 2,500 units built, in process of development) along with continuing balance of County ongoing expansion lead to an increased vacancy rate
--2.8% vacancy rate June 2015, highest since Allen and Brooks survey firm began semi-annual survey in two decades
--vacancy rate continued high hitting high of 4.4% in December 2016
--average of 3.0% June 2015 to June 2017 (two years) compares to 2010-2014 average of 1.4%
--snapshot vacancy surveys show in summer 2017 about 500 apartments are available to rent today in Burlington alone
--Add to this likely declines in students from both demographic trends and other states (two-thirds of UVM students are out-of-staters) using incentives to keep their college bound students home. New York, for example, starts it free tuition for residents in all public universities this fall.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Cambrian Rise first housing, Liberty House mostly occupied by college students?

The first part of the huge housing (700+ units), housing, hotel and commercial development, Cambrian Rise, on North Avenue opened this summer. Liberty House, the former Catholic orphanage, conversion to 32 studio/32 one bedroom apartments has been renting. Some interesting observations at the first housing Liberty House (the former Catholic Orphanage) with available unit rents between $1,350 and $1,900. A count of license plates today found 16 out-of-state and 13 Vermont. This does not include one covered motorcycle, a U-haul moving truck and a car with temporary Vermont plates.

With Burlington colleges opening this week, it is reasonable to assume that over half the renters so far are likely composed of out-of-state and even a few in-state students (2/3 of the 13,000 UVM student are out-of-state residents).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Medical Tourism--Montreal Choice Versus University of Vermont Medical Center

The University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMC) $600+ base cost for a routine dermatology appointment last year—it took six months to get that appointment—seemed way beyond reason after a routine one in Montreal in 2008 cost $75 Cdn in cash. So called the same Montreal physician's office two weeks ago and got my choice of morning or afternoon just six days later when planning a getaway visit to the True North. Made sure I brought some Canada cash and after the appointment the very pleasant receptionist gave me the bad news—the cost of the appointment over the last decade had gone up--$5--to $80 Cdn! That's medical inflation fo you! That is $60 US even after paying the ATM $3 fee. Quality of care?  Well, noticed this doctor, a McGill University Associate Professor of Medicine and researcher, displayed a plaque commemorating his presidency of the Canadian Dermatologists Association. Fortunately my State of Vermont supplemental insurance coverage allows 80% of the $60 US so I will get a check for $48.

Seems like everyone gets a benefit from this simple example of medical tourism. No claim at all against Medicare, very likely a smaller claim against the State insurance. Even my lower copay will cover a couple of trips to one of my favorite coffee shops—where I am writing this story.  Of course if a Canadian the government health care pays all--no copay, no-deductable (and no blizzard of mail from Medicare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the physician, etc., etc.)! 

And UVMC? Well, wonder why except for the big stuff, a trip to them makes little sense if it can be avoided.   Besides, it is fun to travel!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

End of US Auto Age Reflected in Miles Traveled by Adults by Car

Doing research for the Parkway challenge ran into a fascinating and simpler explanation for the recent seven year plateau of car travel here in Vermont and across the nation.  When viewed from travel per person over age 16, the plateau extends to two decades long of no change--1997-2017. And that plateau likely slowly, inevitably, dips downward going forward for a number of reasons. 

This article last month by Jill Mislinski nails it by giving us a different reference point for discussion than the tired though once reliable century old data on US annual vehicle miles of travel changes.
By looking at age adjusted (miles of vehicle for those 16 and over) you catch a number factors working against any increase in US/VT car travel which include but are not limited to: (1) first and foremost the growing proportion of seniors whose yearly car travel is about 40% less than non-seniors; (2) for Vermont it is not only senior growth but also declining non-senior population  though somewhat lower in Chitteden County than elsewhere in the State; (3) over time the struggle to install safe walkable/bikable facilities in our cities will bear fruit and reduce car travel demand as a cross section of our population get to enjoy like many modern nations do today, safe walking and bicycling and walking urban areas; (4) ditto for public transit, particularly light and heavy rail; (5) perverse private and public incentives promoting sprawl will decline meaning greater densities; (6) global warming strategies as well as income inequality will force far higher taxation and pricing on gasoline and other nonrenewable energy--and over half Vermont petroleum gets consumed on the highway.  

Viewing car travel through miles per year by the over 16 population is a much better signpost than simply total vehicle miles. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Healthy Housing Rental Vacancy Rate Prevails in Burlington

July 4, 2017

Healthy Housing Rental Vacancy Rate Prevails in Burlington

...the rental vacancy rate continues upward and may already be in “glut” territory of 6 to 7 percent

A July snapshot count of online available Burlington housing rentals totaled 344, more than double a similar July 2016 survey finding of 129 vacant available rentals. This 344 July number alone represents a rental vacancy rate of 3.5% using the base of 2010 rentals, well within a “healthy” rental housing market range of 3-5%.

The latest snapshot survey reveals apartment prices fairly stable over the past year while all bedroom sizes except studio (they increased from 14 to 24) available vacancies more than doubled (Table 1) in the past 12 months. While median rents increased somewhat over the past year, the number of units available today below the 2016 median rents increased substantially. The 344 survey units represent only part of the available rentals which may easily exceed 500 or 600 with an actual rental vacancy rate of 6% to 7%. Larger apartment complexes, particularly those which are now opening—like the former orphanage Liberty House of 65 units on North Avenue—are tabulated with as little as one or two vacancies. The overall project of Cambrian Rise development of 733 mostly apartments, including Liberty House, on lands once owned by the Vermont Catholic Archdiocese is equal to about 7% of the entire Burlington 2010 rental inventory of 9,800.

The January private comprehensive survey by Allen Brooks found Chittenden County's rental vacancy rate of 4.4%, well within the range of “healthy,” 3-5%. The July snapshot survey indicates the current Burlington vacancy rate may be above of the “healthy” maximum which places financial strains on landlord, especially those with a few rentals. The Allen and Brooks January survey predicted a stabilization of rental prices and increasing vacancies in 2017, and the new snapshot survey supports those comments. With a healthy vacancy rate those seeking to rent obtain a reasonable choice and landlords do have to consider the market when pricing apartments. A “glut” occurs when a surplus supply of apartments force landlords to reduce rents below what it costs to operate and maintain, thereby leading to a decline in the condition and quality of the rental inventory.

With Burlington built or well into development about 2,500 apartments since 2013, a glut of vacant apartments--6% or more if the July data is any indicator--becomes a surprising problem after over two decades when vacancy rates seldom rose over 2.5% and rarely reached the healthy 3-5% vacancy level—and never a rental glut. (Note the 2,500 number does not include 274 housing units proposed in Burlington Town Center [BTC] re-development.)

The snapshot survey data is tabulated directly from Craigslist and other online services. From the 2010 Census, Burlington rental inventory totaled 9,800, 12% of the State rental housing. One major project renting this summer is the Cambrian Rise “Liberty House” with 65 studio and one-bedroom apartments in the former Catholic orphanage building on North Avenue. Clearly the June and July period is a very busy rental season and a firmer picture can be provided in a similar survey done in October when student rentals are fully reflected and apartment turnovers are relatively low.

Table 1

Comparison of July 2016 and July 2017 Burlington Snapshot Surveys
of Online Listings of Rental Apartments and Homes

Bedrooms    Number for Rent    Price Range   Median (Middle) Price
                        2016 2017               2017          2016 2017 % Change

0 (studio)         14    24              $725-$1,285          $968   $962    -0.6

1                      38   102              $700-$2,200         $1,050  $1,150  9.5

2                     43    135              $895-$3,350         $1,350  $1,450  6.9

3                     26     53               $600-$3,333         $1,825  $1,975  8.2

4 or more         8     30               $1,900-$3,900       $2,400  $2,633  9.7

Total 129 344
The April to July snapshot survey comparison, Table 2, confirms a pattern of stable median rents when increasing numbers of rentals considered. Four snapshot rental surveys—July and October 2016, and April and July 2017—show a continuing increase in online listings.

Table 2

    Comparison of April 2017 and July 2017 Burlington Snapshot Surveys
    of Online Listings of Rental Apartments: Numbers and Median Rents
    By Bedroom Size

Bedrooms      For Rent Number       Median (Middle) Price
                        April    July                      April     July
0 (studio)            13    24                        $1,100  $962

1                         81  102                        $1,140   $1,150

2                        86   135                        $1,495   $1,450

3                       42     53                          $2,175   $1,975 

4 or more         28     30                           $2,650   $2,633

Total 250 344

The snapshot surveys began in conjunction with the Coalition for a Livable City efforts to reduce and re-imagine the BTC re-development, questioning both the need for a large slug of downtown housing and the myth that BTC $1,000 one-bedroom apartments responded either to market need or were, as promoted, “affordable” much less providing “livable rents” or “shelter security.”

Several factors can account for increases Burlington and Chittenden County rental vacancies. The impact of a net increase of 300 students being housed this fall at the new UVM dormitory and 300 Champlain College students to be housed at Eagles Landing housing on St. Paul Street in fall 2018 both reduce student rental market demand. Also, there are questions about possible declines in student resident numbers at all area colleges because of either the demographic decline in college age populations and/or free tuition for college educations sudden starts this fall throughout the public universities in New York State and in the City of Boston.

While there is population growth in Chittenden County, the composition of that growth radically differs the past when under-65 age population naturally increased in the County and the State. Since 2010, ten of fourteen Vermont counties actually lost population. But as important, State official population projections, averaged, predict a doubling of senior population while residents under 65 decline—even in Chittenden County. Since 2010 the County growth of about 800 residents yearly mirrors the State average official population projections for 2010-2030. But the official predictions show the current growth composed of about 1,000 seniors and a decline of 200 under-age 65 residents. If this is currently taking place, then the demand surely mounts for not only small apartments—studios and one-bedroom housing units—but also a surge in demand for senior housing along the continuum which house independent residents, assisted living facilities, and finally nursing homes.

Finally, there is a complete lack of housing planning and policy development in Vermont as well as needed housing assistance. Vermont has no state housing plan while regularly producing an update to comprehensive transportation and energy plans. Further while about 13% of all Vermont renters are low income households benefiting from “livable rents” paying a maximum of 30% of income for rent--mostly from federal housing programs like Section 8—those programs stopped expanding early in the last decade as the federal government a abandoned efforts to provide housing assistance to all those of low and moderate income. In addition, today in an age where most Vermonters in their working lives will experience several job changes with the ups and downs of income, “shelter security” may well be as important as regular housing assistance--”shelter security” being assured a reduction in housing costs with dips in income from illness, unemployment, etc. “Shelter security” is also provided by Section 8 type units with rental amount decreased (and increased) as tenant incomes change.

The response to the federal government abandoning housing assistance has resulted in well intentioned but fragmented responses at the state and local levels. Hospitals, the corrections system and mental health field has resorted using non-housing streams of government funding to pay for housing as a far cheaper and far more beneficial to client needs than holding these individuals in institutional conditions. These often creative effort do in fact provide a context for formal, focused state and local housing assistance programs. For sure, there are today plenty of apartments ready to house the homeless and those in need of shelter.

Burlington housing market rental websites:


Bissonette Properties:


Tony Redington

Twitter: @TonyRVT60

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Vermont Plays Scrooge with State Budget

Tom Pelham, a former budget leader, calls the Vermont budget "skating on thin ice." But with his personal blinders on, Pelham never bothers to explain the reality of U.S./VT gross product placed into government hands for needed investments and services on average amounts to 8.8% less than the typical developed nation (Wall Street Journal June 13). Yes, Mr. Pelham really preaches the Scrooge message echoed by the Vermont Legislature and Governor Scott that we have empty pockets with only crumbs left for those in need as we slowly cut back--not expand--on the needs of our residents. Yes, the U.S. and Vermont--among the wealthiest in the world if not number one--remains a cheapskate when it comes to spending on citizens needs.  The only growth since the 1980s in household economics?  Growing inequality!  
How much a cheapskate Vermont State governmental expenditures? Well, 8.8% of our gross state product (GSP) of about $30 billion comes out to $2.4 billion a year additional in our State General Fund budget, the amount a typical nation in our league might devote to the public sector in services and investments.  Our current tax revenue for the General Fund for the upcoming budget (if ever passed!) amounts to $1.8 billion for FY 2018.  Add 8.8% more of gross state product--$2.7 billion--and you get to more than double, over $4 billion in the General Fund for Governor Scott and the Legislature to apply to Vermont needs.  In reality, that extra $2.4 billion (remember that figure only gets to the average developed nation government spending!)--would get allocated among the federal, State and local governments.

Of course we need tax reform and more taxes at the same time on the well-to-do, luxury goods, etc.--that is the message of Public Assets led "One Vermont" plan endorsed by the Council of Vermont Elders (COVE) an others this year--a recognition we are more Scrooge than just about any nation on earth (or state)! Bah, humbug Tom Pelham, Governor Scott and the Vermont Legislature!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Vermont Population Bomb

The Vermont Population Bomb

Those concerned with ongoing world population growth always describe it as a “bomb” assuredly exhausting global natural resources, making average individual economic betterment impossible, and defeating global sustainability.

Meanwhile Vermont not unlike other northeastern states and aging nations suddenly finds itself sitting in a long period of demographic stagnation as the young and working age population declines and senior numbers climb through the roof. Conservatively, using the average of the two State population projections, the 2010-2030 period features a yearly decline of working age population of 2,100 and the young 0-20 1,400 while seniors soar 4,400 or a town the size of Stowe added each year!

The senior population bomb got plenty of attention of Governor Jim Douglas early in the century, the decline in the young those concerned with why school costs rise with declining student numbers, and finally in the recent election campaign the disappearing and aging workforce segment came into regular discussion. In his budget message Governor Scott called the growth of the workforce necessary for stabilizing the support for tax revenues but did not bother to note the trend of workforce decline of 2,100 a year or specific steps to slow the leakage much less how to reverse the long term trend.
Demographic trends are not a mystery and Vermont like all states and do periodic releases of official projections of populations by age which agencies must use in preparation of policies, plans and programs. The two current projections provide no comfort to the State leadership or those in our cities and towns. Vermont's two official 2010-2030 populations start from the same 2010 Census population of 625,700 (numbers here are rounded to the nearest 100) with projections showing: Scenario A a growth to 670,100 or 44,400 more residents and, Scenario B decline of 5,300 to 620,500.

As a practical matter these 20 year projections developed every so often have tended toward paralleling U.S.Census which has a large staff dealing with all aspects of current and future demographic estimates for the nation as a whole, the states and right down to each of our Vermont counties, towns and even state representative districts.

So Vermont and its political leaders face a different kind of population bomb, one of declining children each year or 17% for the 2010-2030 period; a double digit decline, 11%, of working age population 20-65; and an almost doubling of the senior population, 97% or an 88,900 increase.

So what is the Vermont change in population in 2016 and how does it compare with the two projection from the 2010 Census scenarios, one predicting an increase of 44,400 and the second a 5,300 decline? Census for 2016: Vermont population down 1,100! The decline suggests Scenario B is more likely than Scenario A. While the analysis here averages the two scenarios, Scenario B would mean an even greater loss of under 20 population as well as the 20-65 workforce population while still reaching an 82% increase in seniors.

The numbers for Vermont counties and towns can reach even starker levels, again using just the two scenario average. Nine of fourteen counties have lost population since 2010, Census estimates. Projections show practically all counties lose both young and working age population while senior aged numbers soars—even Chittenden County with a 11% decline in the young 0-19, a drop 5% working age, and 111% increase in seniors. Still overall population of Chittenden County 2010-2030 us projected to grow, thanks to the seniors numbers, 7% for the 20 year period.

For a typical county other than Chittenden there is a population decline and the projections are far starker. Addison County numbers are: 3.9% drop in population overall, 0-20 age down 36% and working age 20-65 down 21% while senior numbers jump 112%. Again, if 2010-2016 Census estimates are in indicator, these numbers could show even greater differentials.

Again it is so important to emphasize these Vermont numbers are not that much different than those of other northeastern states or slow growth ones in the midwest. All Vermont's neighbors will be pushing in the same direction in all likelihood to staunch the flow of declining workforce and the young while dealing with a massive increase in their senior populations.   

The two key reports on projecting Vermont populations are:
1. “Vermont Population Projections 2010-2030” K Jones and L Schwarz, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (2013). This report contains population projections for 2020 and 2030 for the State and counties by age for two secenarios (A and B); and in addition total town population projections for both scenarios for 2020 and 2030.

2. “The Challenges of Projecting Vermont's Population” by the Vermont Joint Fiscal Office (2015).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Make Progress Using a Snail Pace

Senator Leahy this week received a straight faced report in VT Digger on moving another step forward in customs pre-clearance in Montreal considered necessary for resumption of a rail connection to Montreal.  This in spite of the fact such service existing for more than a century until abandoned in the 1980s.   More important connectivity could be obtained and a profit gained by a simple connection by by a dedicated bus (an "Ambus") between the Amtrak Vermonter serving St. Albans to DC and Montreal's Gare Centrale.  Service was run for a time by bus using a regular Greyhound service with far more difficult scheduling (leaving about 5 a.m. in Montreal) and years before the new freeway extension north of the border cutting about 20 minutes in highway travel times.  It is so ironic that while the Vermont Agency of Transportation started an equivalent "Ambus" connection between Bennington last year to the Amtrak Station in Albany at a heavy subsidy, making a profit with a Montreal Ambus remains on the shelf.  Clear example of bureaucratic hypocrisy?

Here is a comment just made in reference to Stn. Leahy work on customs pre-clearance at Gare Central for New York and Vermont train connections:

"The charade of taking a Montreal/Vermont rail connection seriously masks taking action today to provide a daily rail/Ambus connection to Gare Centrale Montreal drawing 15,000 to 30,000 yearly riders onto the mostly empty train in Vermont, the Vermonter which travels between St. Albans and DC. Forget the $1 million potential profit and thereby equal reduction of State dollars required to support the two Vermont Amtrak trains, Vermonters cannot use this safe and cheaper way to get to the Great North.  So sad the Vermont Agency of Transportation continues this malign neglect of rail connectivity while touting its own great work of completing (almost) its two-decade effort to extend the Ethan Allen Amtrak service from Rutland 55 miles to Burlington.  (Oh, yes, it is only 55 miles because the 13 miles of track from Charlotte to Union Station Burlington has been Amtrak ready since Dr. Dean's Champlain Flyer investments in 1999-2000.)"