[Hpn] Vermont's working poor struggle to find housing;BFP;AP article;7/22/02

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Mon, 22 Jul 2002 12:26:46 -0400

-------Forwarded article-------

Monday, July 22, 2002
Burlington Free Press <http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com>
[Burlington, Vermont]
Vermont News: State, Metro & Local section(s)
Page B1 [with a page 3B continuance]
Vermont's working poor struggle to find housing

By Anne Wallace Allen
The Associated Press

BRATTLEBORO -- Having work is no guarantee you can survive.

Just ask Tammy Tier, who until recently was returning every afternoon from 
her 35-hour- a-week job at Wal-Mart to a homeless shelter.

Or Peter McAllister, who works up to 70 hours a week at a factory but can't 
get the bank financing he needs to move his family out of their cramped 
apartment in Derby Line into a mobile home in the country.

Or Pam Burnett, whose husband works full time cleaning upscale homes while 
the family lives in a Woodstock trailer park.

These Vermonters belong to a growing group of people who work all day but 
can't make ends meet. Many serve as clerks at grocery stores, gas stations, 
and farmstands. Like Tier, some have jobs that pay minimum wage and don't 
offer benefits. Or like Burnett's parents, they are retired but work at 
low-wage jobs.

People who work with the poor in Vermont say their problems -- especially 
with respect to housing -- have become more acute.

"There are families working full time who literally cannot find a place they 
can afford to live, so they are destitute," said Rita Markley, executive 
director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter, or COTS, in Burlington. 
"They're working full time during the day, and at night they turn to 
emergency shelters because they cannot make ends meet. That undermines the 
whole notion that work leads to self-sufficiency."

"Squeezed out"

Tier's most recent housing problems began in June when she moved into 
Morningside -- not for the first time -- after she gave notice at the 
boarding house where she lived. She planned to obtain a subsidized 
two-bedroom apartment; without the subsidy, her rent would be about $850. 
The place where she had been living rented her room to someone else as soon 
as she said she was leaving.

It took much longer than she expected to obtain approval for the apartment 
move, and she had to live in the shelter while waiting to be accepted back 
into one of the subsidized boarding houses.

The shelter is tidy and clean. Tier didn't mind keeping all her belongings 
in storage while she sorted out her living situation, or walking to work 
because she doesn't have a car. Living in a public place was hard on her.

"There's no privacy, unless you go to the bathroom," she said.

The McAllisters also know about the housing problems that come with poverty. 
Their family of four shares a two-bedroom apartment in a large run-down 
wooden building next to the U.S. Customs station in Derby Line.

The McAllisters want a place in the country, where their two girls, ages 5 
and 2, can run outside. They couldn't get financing to buy a trailer they 
wanted in Holland. Yet their rent in Derby Line is higher than their monthly 
payment on the trailer would have been. Most of their friends are in a 
similar situation.

"We're the same as a good 80 percent of the Northeast Kingdom," Peter 
McAllister said.

The wages are a little bit higher south of the Kingdom, but so are the 
rents. Pam Burnett, who has lived in the Woodstock area all her life, says 
housing costs are based on the incomes of the professionals who work nearby, 
or on people from Boston, New York and Connecticut who buy second homes in 
the area.

"You've got rents in this area that reflect the income levels at Dartmouth, 
Norwich, the professionals that live down in that area," she said. "We're 
slowly getting squeezed out."

Housing crisis

It's not their imagination: The poor really are getting squeezed out of 
Vermont's housing market.

Vermont's rental vacancy rate is the third lowest in the nation, and its 
vacancy rate for home ownership is tied for fourth lowest, according to the 
Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign, a coalition of nonprofit groups and 
businesses looking for solutions to the state's housing problems.

Even middle-income families, with an income of $50,000 or more, must 
struggle to find shelter in some parts of the state -- especially the upper 
Connecticut River Valley, the campaign says.

A minimum-wage worker in Vermont earns about $13,000 a year. The median home 
price in Vermont is $129,000, said John Fairbanks, who works for the 
campaign. To afford that, a buyer would probably need an income of $44,000 
-- just over $21 per hour, he said.

The campaign used U.S. Census data to calculate a "housing wage," the amount 
a worker has to earn to afford a two-bedroom apartment, estimated last year 
to cost $687 a month.

Overall, the wage would have to be $13.21 an hour -- more than twice 
Vermont's minimum wage. The housing wage varies greatly around the state, 
from $15.67 in the Burlington metropolitan area to $9.79 in Orleans County.

Most policy-makers and lenders assume a family should spend no more than 30 
percent of its income on housing. 2000 Census data indicate that in Vermont, 
about 40 percent of families have to spend more than that 30 percent, 
Fairbanks said.

"Vermont is one of the most expensive states in the country when it comes to 
housing," he said. "Prices have risen much faster than wages."

Meanwhile, not enough affordable homes and apartments are being built to 
meet demand.

"There's no housing around here -- it's been a while since I've seen a 
three-bedroom apartment in the paper," said Nicole Sanborn, a former 
Morningside resident who works at the Brattleboro shelter. "What there is, 
is expensive."

The result is a sharp increase in homelessness, which has more than tripled 
in the past 10 years, according to a 1999 report to the Legislature by a 
commission on children and poverty.

More than half the people who seek housing assistance from 
Bennington-Rutland Opportunity Council are working, said Richard Jorgensen, 
the associate director for community services at BROC.

"The number of people that we're seeing who are working has certainly 
increased significantly over the last five years," he said. About half are 
families with children, he said.

Market forces don't appear likely to solve the problem.

"You can't build a decent structure and rent it at a rate that somebody 
making $6 or $9 can afford and make a profit," said Bryan Stookey, a 
volunteer with the Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing Corp. "It's 
impossible, so none is being built."

As Fairbanks sees it, the solution lies in encouraging communities to build 
more housing.

"Towns are probably not doing enough to welcome housing," he said. 
"Affordable housing is generally viewed as a burden to communities, not an 

Not without reason, he said, town officials fear that more houses will mean 
more expense for schools and town services.

"Until communities are convinced that this kind of development is an asset, 
they're not going to be friendly to it," he said.

Fairbanks' group plans to address local meetings this summer in a campaign 
to raise awareness of the housing problem and persuade local officials to 
allow more low-income housing development.

Stookey thinks the answer lies in raising wages for working people and 
involving the government more in public housing, the way it was in the 

"There are always going to be people who are poor enough that they need 
housing help," he said.

It is public housing that helps people get a place of their own, said 
Sanborn, a single mother who lives in a subsidized apartment.

"Most of the people that leave here, leave into subsidized housing," she 


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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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