[Hpn] Montpelier promotes a 'small' idea for housing; Times Argus; 8/25/2006

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@gmail.com
Fri, 25 Aug 2006 09:07:52 -0400

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Friday, August 25, 2006
Times Argus
[Barre - Montpelier, Vermont]
Montpelier promotes a 'small' idea for housing

August 25, 2006

By Patrick Joy Times Argus Staff

MONTPELIER  City planners have launched a novel incentive program
aimed at creating more apartments in Montpelier, a move they hope will
help ease the city's tight rental market.

The "One More Home" program will provide up to $4,000 in aid to
homeowners thinking of converting under-utilized space in their homes,
garages and carriage houses into small apartments. While the money
cannot be used for construction, it can help foot the bill for
architectural planning, permitting fees and other "soft" costs.

Montpelier Housing Task Force chairman Jim Libby said so-called
"accessory apartments" can help expand the city's housing base without
the need for new developments.

"Apart from some parking concerns, in most cases a neighborhood barely
notices if there are accessory apartments," Libby said. "This was a
chance to do some smart growth."

Erhard Mahnke, coordinator for the Vermont Affordable Housing
Coalition, said Wednesday that accessory apartments can help chip away
at the affordable-rental deficit.

"This is a great way to create incremental new units around the state
without having to go through a long development process," he said. "It
will be unit by unit, not 20 or 30 at a time, but it can add to the
affordable housing stock."

Those additions are sorely needed in Montpelier, which has expanded
its rental base by only 21 rental units in the last 25 years and had
just a 1.8 percent vacancy rate when it was last tallied in 2002.
Nearly all of the meager apartment growth has come in the last year,
when the River Station apartment complex on Barre Street added 39
apartments to the city. Before that development, Montpelier had lost
18 apartments during the late '80s, '90s and early 2000s.

Affordable apartments are even more difficult to come by in the
Capital City. Libby and George Seiffert, Montpelier's community
development specialist, said that while they don't have detailed
rental rate data, the lower end of the market seems much tighter than
the upper end.

"We know that it is very tight for families," Libby said.

The housing growth numbers support that theory. In the last 25 years,
the higher-priced condominium market has seen more than 10 times the
growth of the apartment market, with 355 more condos on the market in
2005 than there were in 1985. The city has also added 183
single-family homes since 1985.

But with average home prices soaring from $93,000 in 1996 to $188,750
in 2005 and the average Washington County income increasing from
$24,036 to just $33,824 over that same time period, those homes are
largely out of reach for the average resident.

Accessory apartments, however, can help those average Vermonters
afford a home, says Mahnke.

"Duplex ownership is often a passport to homeownership for moderate
income people," he said. "Buying a single-family home and adding an
accessory apartment can provide some additional income."

A rewrite of the state zoning law passed two years ago is also a
factor in the program, because it made it legally easier for
homeowners to convert space into accessory apartments.

Funded through a $3,500 grant from the Forum on Sprawl and a $106,000
Vermont Community Development Program grant, the program has a modest
goal of 10 new accessory apartments in its first two-year cycle.
Seiffert acknowledges that 10 apartments will not come close to
solving the city's rental crunch, but he calls it a step in the right

"We see it as a way to start addressing Montpelier's housing need
while working within already existing structures," he said.

The program has two phases. Homeowners wishing to explore the option
of creating an accessory apartment can receive up to $1,500 of funding
to defray 50 percent of the planning and permitting costs with no
obligation to develop. If the homeowner does develop, however, the
city will retroactively cover the remaining 50 percent and provide up
to an additional $2,500 for planning, permitting and other soft

Accessory apartments cannot exceed 40 percent of the square footage of
homes, unless they are built in garages or carriage houses, where they
can occupy the entire building.

Anyone interested in the project can contact Seiffert at the
Montpelier Planning office at 223-9506 or e-mail

Contact reporter Patrick Joy at 223-3335 or e-mail pat.joy@timesargus.com.


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Morgan morganbrown@gmail.com
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier, Vermont, USA
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