BRATTLEBORO—Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced more than $1 million in development funds for housing organizations during a brief, spirited ceremony hosted at the Municipal Center on Dec. 4.
The funds, from the Vermont Community Development Program (VCDP), were awarded to the towns of Brattleboro, Wilmington, and Thetford.
Shumlin presented Brattleboro Selectboard Chair David Gartenstein and Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) Executive Director Connie Snow with the $1 million award.
Gartenstein said the town “jumped at the chance” to co-sponsor the grant with WWHT.
He added the WWHT’s programs have helped keep people in safe, affordable, energy-efficient homes.
Snow said WWHT will use the money to recapitalize its loan fund, aimed at improving single-family homes in the two counties.
These loans can help a homeowner improve his house — say, by replacing a roof or septic system — or refinance his mortgage.
“When citizens are living in safe housing, and homes are well maintained, it is a win-win for the region’s communities. We feel this program hits a home run,” Snow said.
Snow estimated that the funding will improve about 60 homes over two years. The average loan runs between $14,000 and $16,000 for repairs and upgrades.
The town of Wilmington and WWHT also received $271,000 grant for the Laterre House on Main Street. WWHT bought the seven-unit building some 17 years ago.
According to Snow, the grant will fund improvements — say, tackling an energy enhancement such as installing a wood pellet-fired boiler.
By keeping its costs down, WWHT keeps its rents low, said Snow.
Shumlin described Wilmington as proving that “we are Vermont strong,” and praised the town’s use of public-private partnerships to rebuild after Tropical Storm Irene two years ago.
Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy noted “it’s been a long road” rebuilding after Irene. He said the town recently completed repairs to infrastructure, has set its focus to economic development, and has identified housing as a big need.
A grant for $30,000 went to the town of Thetford and the Twin Pines Housing Trust for a feasibility study on developing affordable senior housing. Thetford is on the Connecticut River north of White River Junction.
In his opening remarks, Shumlin said that although Vermont ranked as having the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the nation, getting affordable housing right would lead to more jobs and greater economic development.
October data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Vermont had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, behind North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Hawaii.
According to a VCDP press release, the Dec. 4 awards came from approximately $6.5 million the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development receives in Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to Shumlin, each dollar of the grant funds will leverage $8 in public and private monies.
Snow explained that in Windham County, housing requires subsidies because average wages don’t pay enough for market-rate housing.
Banks estimate that about 30 percent of a person’s income should go toward housing, said Snow. In this area, many people spend about 50 percent of their income on housing.
“You’d like to avoid that [situation],” said Snow. “[This area] has a bigger squeeze than many parts of the state.”