Who needs affordable housing?

  • Published in News

When people are thinking about affordable housing, it can be hard to know the exact demographic that is being discussed. Not according to Eileen Nooney, director of family and community support services at Capstone Community Action in Barre.

“In our community, we are talking about housing people who work here. We have a lot of people who work here in different capacities. We have the people who own big businesses and we have people who come here for recreation and own second homes; that’s one level. But the other level are the people who teach here, who work at the mountain. … We need all of those people,” Nooney said.

Community action agencies were set up under President Lyndon Johnson and the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act. The idea is to fight poverty at a local level. Capstone is one of six throughout Vermont and the organization covers Washington County.

Capstone helps direct people to shelters, helps families apply for subsidized housing and can help with other crisis situations.

It is easy to forget about affordable housing issues, Nooney said, especially when someone is in a comfortable setting. Also, when people think of affordable housing they sometimes think of a welfare state, but that is not the case she said.

In terms of the Mad River Valley, affordable housing applies to many of the people who work here and who make up The Valley’s community.

Without these people, Noonan explained, the community will not survive.

According to the 2016 Mad River Valley Annual Data Report, which is put together by the Mad River Valley Planning District, the median gross rent in The Valley in 2014 was $994 per month. However, in the same year the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considered a fair market price for a one-bedroom apartment in The Valley to be $726 and a two-bedroom apartment to be $900.

Additionally, between the 2014-2015 ski season and the 2015-2016 season, more Sugarbush workers decided to commute into The Valley. Two years ago, 49 percent of employees lived in the area and a year ago that number dropped to 46 percent.

“There are so many stories out here that the average person doesn’t know,” said Sarah Nussbaum, community resource coordinator located in Waitsfield. In the first half of 2017, 300 families have come to Capstone in need of housing assistance. They have been able to help 100 of the families so far.

Noonan and Nussbaum consider themselves an emergency room, of sorts. When people run out of fuel or are evicted, “Our goal is to get them through that crisis so they can take advantage of financial literacy and business development programs.”

Most committee’s core functions are housing and food assistance but many, like, Capstone, operate additional services.

When Nooney began work at the agency she considered herself to be a sympathetic person and she thought she knew plenty about poverty. “It took me 20 minutes to go ‘Oh my god. I had no idea.’”