By Kara Herlihy
The renting years -- known to Twenty-Something's as a housing black hole where apartments are found or lost over the inclusion of utilities (and roommates are a necessity) -- might be described as the years between or before college and reaching 30 years old.
Those are the years when young people typically begin working, taking entry-level jobs or trying their hand at employment by working seasonally at summer or winter jobs. And in The Valley (and beyond) those are the years when housing is often catch as catch can, with people struggling to cover rent, transportation, utilities and groceries. But is the issue of housing worse in The Valley than elsewhere in Vermont or the country?
In the Valley, affordable housing is a tough proposition -- for many it is impossible.
THREE TYPES OF RENTERS
There are three types of renters in The Valley. The first are the full-time year-round renters who live and work here. Second are the part-time seasonal renters most often found working at the ski areas or associated businesses. Remaining are the part-time seasonal renters -- most of whom are vacationers from flatter lands.
Living in The Valley is costly, and the numbers are quite telling.
A sampling of classified ads for housing rentals from one issue of The Valley Reporter shows that the average rate for a two bedroom apartment in The Valley is $895 per month -- no surprise, above the state average of $797. (Utilities were not taken into consideration.)
State and federal guidelines call for housing costs to range between 25 and 30 percent of monthly/annual income. A worker earning $25,000 and paying 30 percent of his/her income for housing could pay $7,500 annually, or $625 per month.
Someone earning $35,000 could pay $10,500 (30 percent) of his/her income and afford housing costing $875 a month.
However, the average annual in 2006 in Valley towns falls below $35,000 and $25,000. According to Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce 2007 Community profile, the average annual wage in Warren in 2006 was $17,101. That wage in Waitsfield was $30,988. In Fayston, the average annual wage was $29,920. In Moretown the average annual wage was $44,717. Duxbury's was $35,584 and Waterbury's was $39,800.
That same profile exports that a Vermont household needs to earn $31,897 to afford fair market rent of $797 per month. With Valley averages almost $100 higher per month, based on an informal survey of classified ads for housing in <MI>The Valley Reporter<D>, it's no wonder young workers complain about the high cost of living and the lack of affordable housing.
In a 2006 report to its members, the Mad River Valley Planning District reports, "The Valley falls short of being affordable; meaning the average house in any of the three towns is not affordable to the average household. Our 2006 housing study indicates a current unmet need of 54 rental units, 38 units of elderly housing, a need that will escalate over the coming years."
The problem is not tied solely to The Valley; it is a statewide trend where living and working in Vermont has become nearly impossible for the youth that grew up here.
FAIR MARKET RENT
"The average Fair Market Rent for a modest two-bedroom apartment in Vermont reached $797 in 2006, a 10 percent increase since the year before and a 42 percent increase since 1996," according to Central Vermont Community Profile (CVCP).
"Vermont had the tightest rental housing markets in the nation in 2006. The rental vacancy rate was 3.6 percent. The state's most recent housing needs assessment showed Vermont has a shortage of 21,000 affordable rental units and will need 12,300 more owner-occupied units by 2010," according to the CVCP.
Owning a home doesn't look any easier.
Take Fayston -- the land of Sugarbush's Mount Ellen and Mad River Glen -- a resort town with an average annual wage of $28,920 in 2006, according to the Central Vermont Community Profile (CVCP). Take that number and sit it next to their average home sale price of $393,050.
The data speaks to what would be considered a statistical outlier, or anomaly in any other state, but Vermont is just that -- an exception to the rule. The seasonal economy in Vermont brings in droves of vacationers and, no surprise, second home buyers.
In Warren the gap is even bigger. The average annual wage is $17,101, with an average home sales price of $319,942 in 2006. The same factors apply in Warren, given its status as a resort town, home of Sugarbush's Lincoln Peak.
Moretown? Their average annual wage is $44,717, with an average home sales price of $189,056. And Moretown hosts a landfill and receives some $300,000 a year in tipping fees! Waitsfield's average annual wage is $30,988 with an average home sales price of $290,421 -- slightly more realistic but still a staggering statistical gap when considering a young person trying to get started in Vermont.
The aforementioned data is just the tip of the affordable housing iceberg. This is the first in a series of articles attempting to answer the question of why there are so few young people in The Valley. While it is easy to hide behind Vermont's increasingly high tax rates, there are many other factors that are helping chase the young people out of state.
Jobs seem to be disappearing to other communities (Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Mad River Canoe, Northern Power, Black Diamond) and seasonal jobs are no longer filled by the trusty ski bum. Rather, seasonal employers now hire seasonal workers from overseas, for a variety of reasons. And finally, there's no place for young people to congregate for socializing and nightlife and there's no public transit. No jobs, no housing, no social outlets, no transportation = no young people.
Next week The Valley Reporter will examine the demographics of who lives in The Valley today (compared to the heyday of the ski-bum era) and where those people work (or in the case of older residents -- don't work).