By Karl Klein, Mac Rood, Bob Ackland
The Mad River Valley Housing Coalition (MRVHC) is looking for your support at Town Meeting this year. We’re asking you to vote “yes” on an article asking you, our community, to appropriate $4,000 from Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston’s annual town budgets. This money will fund the MRVHC’s effort to create local housing solutions to the affordable housing shortage in The Valley and allow us to retain an employee fully dedicated to this cause. Our goal is to serve community members at all income levels through increased housing options and affordability.
While the lack of affordable housing has been a challenge in The Valley for many years, the intensity of the problem has grown in recent years. According to a 2020 Mad River Valley housing study, our community is largely unable to provide homeownership opportunities for households who are younger than age 65 or make less than $100,000. Projected trends show our population becoming increasingly elderly and wealthy, thus losing young families and workers who can’t afford appropriate housing in our community. We are also losing permanent residents. In 2020, primary homes (ownership and rental) only accounted for 44% of our housing stock. While we welcome our second-home owners, our work focuses on ensuring housing options for year-round residents.
Affordable housing is the foundation of a safe, stable, healthy community. It is intrinsically connected to all areas of a person’s life. Access to affordable housing (housing for which the occupant pays no more than 30% of their household income) improves physical and mental health, leads to better academic performance in children and increased economic mobility and provides a stimulus to the economy.
If we want to retain the history and feel of this special place, the importance of a diverse range of housing options cannot be ignored.
WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
The MRVHC has depended on the dedication and passion of its volunteers for the past three decades. As a volunteer-based organization, the effectiveness of our work has varied throughout the years. In January of 2020, our board made the collective decision to rethink our approach in order to make a broader impact. We hired our first employee in an effort to take the plans and strategies talked about at monthly meetings and turn them into action. We believe the creation of this part-time position has made a substantial impact to our efforts and resulted in our most productive year yet.
Major Milestones 2020 include:
- We worked with local and state experts to identify impediments to housing in The Valley. These impediments informed our strategic plan.
- We began community outreach through the presentation of recent housing market data that demonstrated our affordable housing deficit. This data, along with potential solutions, was co-presented with the Mad River Valley Planning District in a series of community meetings and a five-part affordable housing talk series viewable through our website www.MRVHousing.org.
- We created pilot programs to immediately address the need for rental housing. With funding from the community fund, the Warren United Church and Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, we created an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) program which exchanges professional support and a $10,000 construction grant to homeowners in return for creating a rental ADU that will remain a year-round affordable rental for five years. The program created three new affordable rentals in the first year. Please inquire if interested in participating in 2021.
- We assisted the towns in the creation or revision of bylaws in an effort to promote diverse and affordable housing options.
- We assisted individuals in The Valley looking for help constructing affordable homes or keeping their homes affordable in perpetuity.
- We created a list of strategies to reduce the affordable housing shortage and presented this to tri-town leadership meeting. We also co-created an informational booklet available on our website. This research helped informed our 2021 action plan.
WHAT ARE WE EXPLORING THIS YEAR?
There is no one solution to the affordable housing shortage. The best strategy to preserve and expand housing options encompasses a wide range of tools and approaches. It requires action and collaboration by the municipalities, affordable housing developers, community members and nonprofits. In accord with this, we will work with all of the above-mentioned groups in the coming year.
Our focus for 2021 will include:
- Continued focus on incremental change through our Accessory Dwelling Unit Program, expanding it to create six additional units this year.
- For community members, a major impediment to housing is often the upfront cost of renting or buying an existing home. With costs of land and construction where they are, it is hard for individuals or developers to create new affordable housing. A major project for us in 2021 is researching strategies for structuring, funding, implementing and managing a housing trust fund (HTF) and making a recommendation on implementation. HTFs can create opportunities for down payment assistance and security deposit assistance for qualifying community members. They can help developers create more units for middle to low-income earners through grants and zero interest loans. It is likely the single most versatile solution to our affordable housing shortage.
- We will continue to assist the towns in the creation or revision of bylaws or programs that promote diverse and affordable housing options while preserving our natural environment.
- We will promote affordability through home weatherization and efficiency, by collaborating with state and local organizations to craft a home weatherization program.
- We will assist the planning district in developing a Valley-wide approach to short-term rentals in an effort to understand the scope of their influence on affordable housing and potential solutions to remedy their impact.
Klein, Rood and Ackland are members of the executive committee of the MRVHC.