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Putney resident is first to take up USDA offer of rural home ownership

Energy-efficiency, affordability rule in program's next-generation mobile homes

For more information on USDA Rural Development, visit the Vermont Rural Development website at www.rd.usda.gov/vt or call 802-828-6000. For more information on Rural Development’s Energy Efficient Manufactured Home Pilot Program, visit the Rural Development website or contact Jill Chapman at 802-828-6022 or jill.chapman@vt.usda.gov. For more information on Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and its affordable apartments and homeownership programs, visit www.w-wht.org/ or call 802-254-4604.

PUTNEY—Not everyone who buys a home gets a press conference upon moving in.

But, not every homeowner is the first in the state to purchase an energy-efficient modular home through a new USDA program.

Dennis Miller is that homeowner. On June 21, the Putney resident was joined by government officials and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust at the Locust Hill Mobile Home Park to celebrate his new home, purchased through the USDA’s Rural Development’s Energy Efficient Manufactured Home Pilot Program.

The new program, announced a year ago by the department’s Rural Housing Service Administrator Tony Hernandez and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., provides long-term, affordable mortgages for residents of mobile home parks.

Although manufactured homes ostensibly provide an affordable option, until recently, most mobile home owners could get only short-term, high-interest mortgages, putting the option out of reach for those seeking low-cost home-ownership.

Plus, “older manufactured homes often have high maintenance and operational costs” because most weren’t constructed with energy-efficiency in mind, said USDA Rural Development Vermont and New Hampshire State Director Ted Brady in a June news release.

The USDA’s solution is to support individuals with lower incomes by offering 30-year mortgages at a fixed, 3.25-percent interest rate on new, energy-efficient modular homes. Very low income home buyers may be eligible for an subsidized interest rate as low as 1 percent.

“The energy cost savings of new manufactured and modular homes, combined with USDA’s long-term, low-rate, no-down-payment mortgages, offer existing and potential manufactured housing park residents new financing opportunities,” Brady said in the news release.

Miller said he first learned about the USDA program about a year ago at the annual picnic the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust holds for its staff and residents. There, Miller learned about other programs that could help him own his own home.

Housting Trust Lending and Special Projects Manager Bruce Whitney was at the picnic, and he and Miller talked about the housing trust’s shared equity program. This program helps income-eligible homebuyers with purchasing a single-family home through grants and other assistance. Although the individual owns the home, the housing trust retains ownership of the land.

Miller said his interest was sparked, and from there, the housing trust helped him prepare for his first foray into homeownership.

“The [housing trust] team was really there for me. They helped me go over my credit report,” Miller said, noting “there’s a lot of valuable assistance. You’re not in it alone.” He mentioned Whitney and Darlene Kelly as particularly helpful.

The housing trust coordinated Miller’s purchase of a Vermont-made Net Zero Energy Capable VERMOD modular home, manufactured in Wilder. The home was placed in Putney’s Locust Hill Mobile Home Park, which is owned by the WWHT. Miller received financial support from the Champlain Housing Trust, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Efficiency Vermont, and USDA Rural Development.

“The whole idea is to get the mortgage payments down,” Miller said. In the news release from last year announcing the program, the USDA claimed an individual’s mortgage payment could be as low as $387 per month.

“I considered it to be a complete package: a low-cost mortgage, but also with zero-cost utilities,” he said.

All of Miller’s utilities are electric, powered by solar panels installed on his house. This includes the heat pump, which provides heating, cooling, and ventilation for the central-air system.

“Everything runs off solar panels,” he said, noting, “if you’re efficient, you can get a credit on your electric bill.”

The cost of the solar panels was subsidized by a grant from the state, Miller said.

“I moved in two weeks ago,” he said, “and I’m doing well settling in. The house is wonderful. Everything inside is ‘green.’”

“People should know there is a lengthy process” in this program, Miller said, explaining, “you have to build up your credit, have no outstanding debt beyond $500, and you have to attend two eight-hour homeowner courses. You have to put up your own money for closing costs, and they take the property taxes out ahead of time and put them in escrow.”

“But there are benefits,” he said, such as “net-cost utilities, you’re building equity, you get to live in your own home, and you get to design your own floor-plan.” Miller, who is a chef, chose all stainless steel appliances for his home’s kitchen.

“Hang in there,” Miller advised those interested in the program. “It requires a bit of fortitude but pays off in the end.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #367 (Wednesday, July 27, 2016). This story appeared on page D4.

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