Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Housing Policy for Burlington and State of Vermont--A Three Pronged Interim Policy Approach

Following discussions and exploration over the past year, I have been working on further policy analysis to seek a “one fits all policy” to deal with the radical changes in the Burlington, Chittenden County, and Vermont housing market. Part of the housing assistance needs involves folding in populations left out of the dominant federal programs particularly lower income senior homeowners as well as acute housing needs of falling through the cracks in the Department of Corrections, the Department of Mental Health, our hospitals, and the obvious needs of the homeless.

The lack of a unifying housing policy at all levels, the need for State/local funding starting with the Governor's Poverty Council recommendation for the $2 a night lodging fee as a funding source, and finally, recognizing the value as well as limitation of current State efforts using non-profit housing agencies—all are summarized in a three part policy which is hereby recommended as a starting point for discussion for all to consider and support.

Below please find a general background piece to the short brief policy, attached.

Prefatory Note:
At two major Burlington housing developments in process--311 apartments in Sinex's Town Center and Cambrian Rise 735 apartments which total over 1,000—not a single homeless person or very low income household receives “affordable housing assistance” (federal very low income limit for a family of three, $37,100).
Any “affordable housing assistance”--30% of household income maximum for  rent—for the homeless and very low income gets drawn almost completely from the existing Vermont pool of federal units. The 20%+ in these two projects of “inclusionary zoning” (IZ) apartments priced--for example at $1,200 monthly for a 2-bedroom--mostly serve middle income households which includes just the upper range of $49,000 to $59,000 income for a family of three in the federal “low income” schedule for Burlington metro area.

(Note $59,000 income is about 80% of the median income for 3-person families, the upper level for federal "affordable housing assistance" [AHA].)

Introduction and Larger Background

Attached please find a draft wording of a three-part universal housing policy, an interim “no regrets” vehicle, which directly addresses a Burlington and State need for an “affordable housing assistance” (AHA) program built around a $2 nightly lodging fee.

The lack of a clear State or Burlington housing policy makes informed discussion very difficult. A policy analyst must scramble to find available key data in a radically changed housing market from even three years ago. The housing market itself and needs change as the housing market emerged from the Great Recession and building began in earnest about 2015 while federal housing dollars stagnation over the past decade now demands Burlington and Vermont state programming to meet unrelenting needs.

At the State level housing needs policies rests on data sources of 2014 and prior. Since that time in Burlington alone boasts about 3,000 apartments built or well into development which expands the rental housing over 30% (for examples over 1,000 units alone in Burlington Town Center and Cambrian Rise). Since 2015 the decades long 1-2% rental vacancy rates suddenly escalated in the City and solidly reside at or above a healthy 3-5% range of the total rental inventory. ( For the data base of current State policies see p 9 footnote 3 )

Basic housing needs in Chittenden County have shifted from a lack of supply of housing and affordability to the single track need for “affordable housing assistance” (AHA). “Affordable housing assistance” means in federal and housing community language a home where rent or ownership costs consume no more than 30% of household income. In Vermont there are 13,000 units of “affordable housing assistance”--about one in six renters benefiting—primarily in the form of federal Section 8, Public Housing and “Housing Choice Vouchers” administered by our State and local housing authorities.

Why is Housing Different?

Housing for Vermont families differs from food and medical care, both entitlements ultimately guaranteed now by federal programs and monies. Housing remains a scramble for limited “affordable housing assistance” (AHA) and the twin need, lack of household protection from loss of housing from changed economic circumstances also provided in “affordable housing assistance,” i.e., a decline in income is matched by a decreased rent. Today there are no significant State and local AHA programs.
The roughly 2,000 on waiting lists today in Chittenden County and Burlington for what assistance is available testifies to that fact that affordable housing assistance is a critical and unaddressed need. More importantly with stagnant incomes for three decades now and cost of housing relatively higher, housing—already the biggest cost in the typical household budget—can no longer be ignored in State and City human service programming. Today a new element is added, the presence of ever increasing numbers of senior homeowners on fixed incomes unable to age in place. Something must be done.

The Dollar Dimensions

The State of Vermont housing programs provide very little AHA. The 13,000 AHA units in Vermont represent a $104 million in federal funds. In 2017 other federal assistance like Community Development Block Grants and homeownership subsidy amounted to $8.6 million. State fragmented housing assistance initiatives—very little long term AHA—amounts at most to $10 million.

The attached brief “background” and three basic policies provides a starting point for discussion and three interim policy directions until a through State and City policy development process takes place. We cannot even begin to address housing needs without a stable and significant amount of funding. A City initiative might fund 5 to 15 units pilot of “affordable housing assistance” (AHA)--equal in cost to a single professional position at City Hall. A State program, already recommended by the Governor's Pathways from Poverty in 2016 and considered at last session, consists of a $2 nightly lodging fee mostly paid by out-of-state visitors which would fund over 1,000 units of “affordable housing assistance” (AHA).

A State AHA program also directly addresses a number of existing patchwork housing efforts provided by hospitals, the prison system, and the mental health agencies—three major government areas where housing is being provided in the community so the key organizations can avoid the huge financial burden of in-facility service because no AHA is available. The Department of Mental Health, Department of Corrections and hospitals hold individuals at great expense who only need a place to live with AHA support at a cost of about $9,000 yearly versus $62,000 for a Vermont prisoner with hospital stays of all type well above.

The three policies call for:
1. carrying out a State and City housing policy plan process
2. starting a statewide program of “affordable housing assistance” (AHA) employing a $2 a night lodging fee serving over 1,000 low income households, senior homeowners and renters in need, and the homeless
3. continued support for housing development through “inclusionary zoning” practice by Burlington and housing development by non-profit housing agencies like Champlain Housing Trust and senior/disabled houser Cathedral Corporation. Unless paired some or all “affordable housing assistance” these programs serve almost exclusively moderate and middle income households.


1/7/2018 Draft

A Universal Vermont and Burlington City Housing Policy Statement


Federal entitlement programs today insuring all households basic food security and health care. But no Federal “affordable housing assistance” (AHA) entitlement program exists. Federal truly “affordable housing assistance” is limited here in Vermont to 13,000 low income and disabled rental households—about one in six renters. Popularly known as Public Housing, Section 8 and Housing Choice Vouchers, “affordable housing assistance” (AHA) defined by the U.S. government means a household pays at most 30% of income for housing with rent adjusted downward if income declines. “Affordable housing assistance” is by design a “livable rent or ownership” also providing “shelter security” for recipients who know a sudden change in income does not threaten shelter loss. Truly “affordable housing assistance” remains a huge unmet need.

There exists no expectation the federal programs will expand to meet State and local needs. Both homeowners and renters face housing affordability challenge and any program must address both. The rapidly growing number of senior homeowners on fixed income pose a new concern as this group cannot be served by current programs. In Burlington alone over 1,000 wait on lists for existing “affordable housing assistance” and Cathedral Corporation serving seniors and the disabled in Chittenden County waiting lists tops 700 applicants seeking Federal “affordable housing assistance” or non-profit moderate income housing.

Three Overarching Policies for Today

  1. Establish a clear and comprehensive set of (City) (State) housing policies and measurable objectives focused on the low income and the disabled

  1. Dedicate funds from a State $2 nightly lodging fee to create an “affordable housing assistance” program based on need for low income seniors and families as well as disabled Vermonters (30% of household income maximum adjusted if income declines). This program includes a homeowner component.

  1. Advance non-profit and other housing development public policies and programs benefiting moderate income Vermonters.

A base document outlining Vermont housing information and programs: “2017 Vermont Housing Budget and Investment Report” Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development