[Hpn] Vermont's working poor struggle to find housing;BFP;AP article;7/22/02
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 22 Jul 2002 12:26:46 -0400
Monday, July 22, 2002
Burlington Free Press <http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com>
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
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."
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
"We're the same as a good 80 percent of the Northeast Kingdom," Peter
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
"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."
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,
"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
"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,
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
"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
**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
MSN Photos is the easiest way to share and print your photos: