The Mad River Valley Housing Coalition (MRVHC) is requesting that Waitsfield, Fayston and Warren allocate a total of $150,000 over two years from the collective $1,403,159 the towns received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to support the salary and benefits for a full-time MRVHC executive director. The request is for $54,101 from Waitsfield, $53,398 from Warren and $42,501 from Fayston. It amounts to 10.7% of each town’s ARPA funds. The executive director position is held by Michelle Leibowitz, The ARPA funds would allow the MRVHC to expand Leibowitz’s work to full-time to address housing in The Valley.
MRVHC members Mac Rood and Charlie Hosford, along with Leibowitz, came before the Waitsfield Select Board on March 28 to request the funds. The MRVHC will meet with the Fayston Select Board on April 5. The date it will speak with the Warren Select Board has not yet been determined.
“It’s become very difficult to find a place to live” in The Valley, said Rood. “It’s a crisis. It’s transforming our community. In order to really effect change we feel it’s necessary and important to have a full-time executive director.” The executive director role will continue to educate the public on housing in the area, assist towns’ planning commissions, zoning administrators and other partners to explore housing options and assist developers who want to build affordable housing in The Valley. “We believe within two years we will be able to explore a longer-term solution” to continue funding the position, said Rood.
Leibowitz has over 25 years of professional housing experience, most recently working in affordable housing in Massachusetts. She and her family have owned a condo in The Valley for many years and moved to Warren full time during the pandemic.
Select board member Chach Curtis asked whether ARPA funding is the appropriate source of funding for the position. Hosford said ARPA funds are meant to be transformational to communities, which he said funding the full-time position would be. He added that MRVHC member Bob Ackland had spoken with someone in state government who had indicated this proposal fit within ARPA guidelines.
“I don’t know if I would support different levels from each town,” board chair Christine Sullivan said. “Is there any room for flexibility or discussion on towns giving the same amount of money?” Rood said the MRVHC had divided the requests proportionally between the three towns.
“I want to make sure we can take advantage of ARPA funds for infrastructure,” board vice chair Brian Shupe said. He also asked if the MRVHC had been working with other housing organizations in the state, and the members present said they’d been talking to Downstreet Housing and Community Development, which has affordable housing in Waitsfield and Warren, as well as the Champlain Housing Trust and housing organizations in Montpelier and Woodstock.
The board decided to put the request for ARPA funds on its agenda for its April 11 meeting so the full board could discuss it (Jordan Gonda was not present at the March 28 meeting). Sullivan requested that the MRVHC provide the job description for the executive director position by then.
The board also heard an update on knotweed management from Curt Lindberg, chair of the conservation commission. He said the Association of Vermont Conservation Commissions has $600 “tiny grants” available that the Waitsfield Conservation Commission intends to pursue. He also said that the commission has begun identifying potential interns to assist with knotweed management during the summer. The board agreed to allocate $7,450 to the project from the $10,000 it had allocated to the invasive species reserve fund for 2022, less the $600 grant, if awarded.