The No. 1 quality-of-life issue for people employed by businesses in the Mad River Valley is housing. The well-documented lack of affordable/accessible housing in our community makes it that much more difficult for businesses to hire and retain employees. Currently, many people who work here endure long commutes from other parts of the state – some from as far afield as Essex and Greensboro, for example.

It is harder to fill empty positions because prospective employees discover they can’t afford to live here or seek employment elsewhere because they are leery of our local housing costs.

Overall, lack of accessible housing impacts the functioning of a community.

As examples, national studies and experience elsewhere show that lack of local accessible housing worsens traffic because of the necessity to commute.

Further, people burdened with excessive housing costs consume less. Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of economic activity in the U.S. The lack of accessible housing hurts local businesses and the community’s economy.

So why not fix this? Coordinated efforts to address this issue were started in 1989 with the Mad River Valley Affordable Housing Coalition – more than 30 years ago. Most recently the coalition was successful in creating an affordable single-family residence on German Flats Road and has produced materials educating the community in regard to accessory units. These efforts have been sporadic as the coalition has regrouped, disbanded and reconstituted itself over time. The latest coalition reorganization, including a new board of trustees, took place in 2019 and is about to issue a new study on housing demand in The Valley, commissioned in 2019 by the Mad River Valley Planning District and the towns of Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren – a document that will point the way forward.


However, there is a big obstacle: money. Over the decades, the lack of funds has prevented any real progress in realizing goals identified by the coalition.

This also holds true at the state level.

Vermont treasurer Beth Pearce, appearing before the Vermont Senate Economic Development Committee, said recently that it’s clear that a housing shortage in Vermont is holding back the state’s economic growth.

However, the Vermont Capital Debt Affordably Advisory Committee (CDAAC) is unlikely to support a current proposal to borrow another $50 million housing bond proposed for affordable/accessible housing. The CDAAC reviews the size and affordability of tax-supported general obligation debt.

As tempting as it may be to try to bond for an additional $50 million, Pearce cautioned that Vermont should only raise funds within the recommendations of the CDAAC.

Bottom line – there is the will but not the financial resources to do all that is needed.


Local housing initiatives need a small but critical source of funding, and it is clear that the one source of sustainable funding is a local option tax (LOT).

With this tax in place, the Mad River Valley LOT commission is on record as pledging:

  • Attainable housing proposals shall receive the highest priority from the Mad River Valley LOT (MRV LOT) commission. Annually the MRV LOT commissioners shall award at least $300,000 to the Mad River Valley Housing Trust, a trust established by the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition.
  • Goal: Lower the median age of The Valley population and increase elementary school enrollment within the first five years of the MRV LOT fund’s existence.
  • How: Focus on necessary infrastructure: engineering, zoning assistance and permitting to make it attractive for developers to invest in affordable housing units.

Rather than simply more relationship-building and exploration of options, there would be financial resources to do real work – develop a community accessible housing plan and financially assist developers with their projects.

The person being hired to work with the housing coalition, Kaziah Haviland-Montgomery, draws on her experience gained in other parts of the country. To cite an example of how funds made available from something like an LOT source can expand access to affordable housing, a 12-unit affordable apartment building she developed was funded through a combination of loans and grants. It resulted in six low-income units and six units rented at the fair market rate. Having the local funding source donate $5,000 per unit was the crucial difference in making this work. While $60,000 does not seem like a lot of money compared to the $2.8 million total construction cost, had this financial support not been available, the project developers would not have been able to get a loan or build the project. What came with that donation was not only money but a clear demonstration of local support which makes a big impression on lenders and donors. An LOT can provide this resource.

Having an LOT is the best, most cost-effective way to address this critical need for the Mad River Valley. In order for the tri-town LOT discussion to move forward, I encourage Waitsfield voters to approve the proposed charter change on March 3.

For more information on the LOT please go to

Klein is chair of Mad River Valley Housing Coalition.