By Ashley Woods
First, I want to thank The Valley Reporter for their correction to last week's cover story about the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition. The Mad River Valley Community Fund (MRVCF) has not yet pledged to fund half of the proposed executive director position; it is still in the development phase. We do, however, agree strongly with the members of the Housing Coalition that our housing situation is a real crisis that we can’t kick down the road anymore.
A little personal backstory: The Community Fund has been around for 32 years; its roots lie in my own family. A group of friends got together in 1989 to raise money for my mother, Louise Jennings, who was a single mother battling multiple sclerosis and couldn’t work and was in danger of losing our family’s home in Warren. The fundraiser was held at Sugarbush and in true Valley style, was a giant and successful party. Valley friends miraculously raised nearly $60,000. This money kept my mom in her home in Warren village for 11 years. I was 19 back then, but I can still remember the gratitude I felt. My first understanding of how a community can come together.
The generosity organized back then continues today over 30 years later. It is a great privilege and responsibility to help steward the money donors generously give year after year to the MRVCF. I know first-hand how fragile living situations can be here in The Valley. In the last two years the housing shortage has accelerated because of the COVID buying surge and the short-term rental effect. Not only is there very little to rent or buy, but the purchase prices and rents are too expensive for most working people.
MRVCF helps community members who are in financial crisis for many reasons, but more and more those problems revolve around housing. We find ourselves with unsolvable situations due to the disconnect between the cost of living and wages. Traditionally, the community fund helps people to stay in their homes, but this year, many people who have been renting don’t have that option as the hot real estate market has led to the sale of their home. At a time when state leadership talks about recruiting people to come to Vermont, in the Mad River Valley, we are struggling just to keep the neighbors we have. Fewer people seem to mean less of everything. Fewer restaurants, garages, banks, stores in general and no pharmacy.
There is no simple solution to this problem of a housing shortage, definitely no quick fix, but there are lots of small step ideas that are significant and could start to move the needle. The Valley makes an excellent team when we are down, remember Tropical Storm Irene? I hope that people understand the seriousness of the situation and that there are lots of ways they can help.
As individuals we can get involved by being aware of town zoning laws, letting your leadership know your concerns and ideas about affordable housing. Build an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) above your garage and rent it long term instead of short term. Donate land to the housing coalition, to use for affordable housing. If you are a senior living alone, consider sharing your home with someone, in exchange for assistance and offer them an affordable rent. These are just a few ideas, getting involved and encouraging town leadership to engage in the battle is critical.
The community fund has been working with the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition for two years offering support in the form of grants for folks willing to build ADUs and also funding their staff person.
Thanks for listening
Woods is the chair of the Mad River Valley Community Fund.