The Mad River Valley Planning District’s well-being survey garnered over 500 responses this year and of all the issues identified by respondents, the lack of housing rose to the top and will become the focus of renewed efforts by planning district staff.
The survey queried respondents on multiple aspects of Mad River Valley living and also asked opened-ended questions about the challenges of living here as well as the changes needed. Housing was the top response in terms of challenges. Housing was also the top response to the question about changes needed.
“The survey really takes the pulse of the community and when you’re getting this kind of feedback you can’t avoid it anymore. It’s the reality and it shows that there’s a leadership void,” said community planner Amy Tomasso.
She noted that in Vermont, the development of housing has been on the decline for 20 years and said the pandemic further exacerbated the lack of housing as homes were snapped up as fast as they came on the market.
“We have older housing stock and that is really pronounced with our resort housing stock. This situation already existed. It’s not new and it’s really exploded. We have to move forward, the fact that it’s hard should not stop us. We have to involve the community and ask ‘what kind of a community do we want to be and what do we want our future to be’,” she said.
Tomasso said it’s going to take a 360-degree approach involving multiple solutions including tiny houses, zoning changes, infrastructure, land banks, housing trusts, education, advocacy and programs around keeping new housing affordable.
“We have to use all the tools in our tool kit. Having an all-out approach now also shows that we’re committed to this problem,” Tomasso said.
In terms of the scope of the problem, a pre-pandemic planning district housing survey released in 2020 shows current and future need for 450 homes in The Valley.
Tomasso said she is looking forward to having the hard conversations with the community and not shying away because it’s a difficult situation. She also said the planning district is committed to addressing the housing crisis using Smart Growth tools including development that is clustered, walkable, centrally located and features green spaces, among other concepts. She referenced a 2002 Irasville Growth Study that was developed and featured in-fill development, extensive housing development, green spaces, walking trails/sidewalks, arts, recreation throughout Irasville. That study was shelved due to lack of infrastructure.
“At the time of that study there was an article from the planning district that said if w don’t do this now, we’ll be having the same conversation in 20 years and here we are, 20 years later, having this same conversation. Are we just going to let history repeat itself and get in the same cycles of being afraid of density and afraid of suburbanization. That’s not what would happen with Smart Growth. The character and traditional settlement patterns would be respected,” she said.
Tomasso said she keeps coming back to the survey because in it, the whole community is insisting that housing is a real problem.
“People say we don’t have the political will to do housing, but it's the community that constitutes the political will and elects our officials and this is what they’re saying, so we do have the political will,” Tomasso pointed out.
“I always say there’s a Mad River way out of all these problems. With all the ingenuity and creativity here, that’s the way forward in our own unique way,” she said.
She is looking forward to an October 12 Mad River Valley Housing Summit which is currently being planned and after that wants to work with local town boards, commissions and community organizations to advance the cause of housing and empowering people by making land use regulations understandable and relatable.
“It’s really important for me that the summit isn’t just all talk and no action and that there’s follow through and ways for people to get involved. I’m developing working groups and very clear action steps,” she said.
Here is a link to the full survey results: https://bit.ly/2022-survey-results