[Hpn] Montpelier faces housing crunch;VT;Follow-up article
Morgan W. Brown
Sun, 04 Feb 2001 13:53:17 -0500
Below is a forward of a follow-up article to the one (see *Previous
article*) sent out about a week and a half ago regarding Montpelier's
housing crunch which may be of interest to you and others whom you know. The
forwarded article was published in last Sunday's edition of the Times Argus
and came only four days after the previous one (see *Previous article*).
Background: *Previous article*:
Wednesday, January 24, 2001
Times Argus <http://timesargus.nybor.com/>
[Barre - Montpelier, Vermont]
Montpelier affordable housing shortage intensifies:
-- Note: Rick DeAngelis is not the executive director of the Vermont Housing
& Conservation Board as was incorrectly reported in the previous article
Sunday, January 28, 2001
Times Argus & the Rutland Herald
[Front page; top]
Montpelier faces housing crunch
By Stephen Mills
MONTPELIER -- The plight of a working family of 10 that has been
homeless for nearly six months has highlighted the chronic shortage of
housing in the city.
Lured by the "quality of life" in Vermont, the family moved from
Tennessee last August. Although the father was able to find work
immediately in the construction industry, the family was unable to find
housing it could afford.
In desperation, the couple and their children spent time in the Good
Samaritans Haven homeless shelter in Barre, and is currently living in a
summer cabin in Woodbury without running water or adequate heating.
"We were looking for a better place to live to raise our children," said the
family's mother, who requested anonymity. "We thought life here was simpler
and less hectic and fast paced, and the schools were better.
"We had a friend in Montpelier and stayed with her while we looked for a
house. Then we stayed in camp grounds, camping out in tents."
When it became too cold to camp, the family moved to the cabin in
Woodbury offered by a co-worker of the father while they continued to
search for a home.
"We spent some time in the homeless shelter in Barre when it got really cold
in December," the mother said.
They made numerous calls to real estate agents and responded to several ads
"We called a bunch of them," said the mother. "As soon as I mentioned I had
kids, they just hung up."
Efforts by the family to seek help from the Montpelier and Barre housing
authorities, and from the state, also failed.
"The Montpelier Housing Authority has us on the waiting list, but there is a
one to two-year wait, and it might have to be in Swanton or White River
Junction areas," said the mother. The family also is looking farther afield,
in the Northfield, Orange and Irasburg area.
The family's plight is a familiar story for Norma Fleury at the Barre
homeless shelter, which receives about $100,000 annually in grant
funding and deals with about 270 cases a year.
"That doesn't include about 100 more cases where we do preventative
work, like helping them pay electricity bills, a one-time rental back
payment, referring them to other agencies, or helping them with food or a
meal to get them through the month," said Fleury, the resource
director for the shelter's PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition
from Homelessness) program.
Fleury said the shelter also deals with low-income families and people
on welfare who qualified for Section 8 housing assistance.
"But if they can't find an affordable house, they're not able to use
their housing voucher," Rick DeAngelis, a member of the Montpelier
Housing Task Force, which was established a year ago to address the
city's housing issues.
DeAngelis is a former executive director of the Central Vermont
Community Land Trust who now works for the Vermont Housing and
Conservation Board, and has been working on housing issues for the past 20
years. Using federal and state grants,both organizations work to provide
housing for low-income families, and for people with
disabilities or psychiatric problems living in the community.
DeAngelis went before the city planning commission last week to prevent a
survey on the loss of housing in the Court Street area where 17 housing
units have been lost in the last year, mostly to office
Conversion of housing to offices around Court Street -- the city's
oldest neighborhood -- follows a change to zoning to the area from
residential to commercial in 1987. The tradeoff was that new commercial or
office use would no longer be permitted in high-density residential
districts in the city in an effort to preserve housing stock.
"One problem for Court Street is that it's perfectly legal for housing to be
converted to offices... that's what the zoning says you can do," said
DeAngelis. "The city needs to rethink its policies.
"If you keep changing the use of property, you also need to provide more
housing," he added. "There are a lot of people who don't have cars or don't
drive and they need to live downtown."
DeAngelis also presented a copy of a recent report from the housing task
force that showed that out of 1,500 rental units available in the city, only
3 percent were available at any one time.
"That's a pretty low vacancy rate," he said. "We have been hearing, and
we've heard anecdotally at the housing task force, how difficult it is to
get an affordable apartment."
In all, Montpelier has 3,626 residential units, including 1,735
single-family detached homes (48 percent), 1,576 multi-family rentals (43
percent) and 325 condominiums (9 percent).
Housing task force chairman Jim Libby, who works with DeAngelis at the
Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, said a growing influx of
professionals working and living in the city further straining existing
housing with the conversion of multi-family houses into single-family homes,
and homes into offices.
"The general problem is there isn't any new construction in Montpelier," he
said. "We seem to be losing housing instead of gaining it."
Libby said the city's hilly terrain, shortage of land to build on, a
complicated regulatory process and high property taxes make it difficult to
encourage new housing development.
"The other problem we're hearing is concern about substandard rental units,
and whether the city is following up on complaints," he added.
In addition to changing zoning policies to prevent the conversion of home
into offices and allowing for greater density on developed land, the housing
task force report also recommends regular inspections of all housing rentals
in the city and strict enforcement of housing safety codes.
Other more controversial recommendations include an ordinance forcing
landlords and developers to replace housing converted to other uses, and
requiring that new housing development include affordable rentals.
For its part, the city has appointed Councilor Jim Sheridan as its
representative on the housing task force. The planning commission is also
considering zoning revisions to protect existing housing stock and encourage
new housing development. The planning commission is currently working on
establishing a development review board to streamline the permit process,
allowing it more time to focus on housing issues. In its latest budget, the
city is proposing the appointment of a full-time position to deal with
community and economic development and housing.
Montpelier's housing crunch reflects a statewide shortage of affordable
housing. Vermont ranks with New York and Alaska as the top states with
affordable housing shortages. Burlington has less than 1 percent of rental
accommodations available, placing further stress on Montpelier's housing
In its annual report, soon to be presented to the Legislature, the Vermont
Housing and Conservation Board notes that the lack of affordable housing
poses a threat to the economy.
"Economic growth drives the need for growth in housing-especially affordable
housing for young families and expanding industries," said the report. "If
new jobs are created faster than corresponding growth in housing, a quiet
crisis will develop, one that could start to choke the economic success that
The report notes that federal and state funding has helped to develop 1,202
affordable housing units in Vermont, including 496 new units in the last two
years. But of 11 major housing projects funded by $6 million from the
Legislature last year, none were in the Montpelier area.
However, the organization continues to work closely with the Central Vermont
Community Land Trust, the lost active organization locally working to buy
and refurbish housing for affordable rentals.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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