Baser bill seeks boost in homes for new workers

MONTPELIER — A local lawmaker is spearheading an effort to increase affordable housing opportunities for young Vermonters who might otherwise leave to pursue careers in other states where the cost of living is lower.

The proposed law is bill H.702, an initiative led by Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, at the urging of the Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC). The bill, among other things, calls for the creation of two “workforce housing projects” of at least 12 units each to be built in the state.

Those homes could be either rental or for purchase, and would have to be built in a manner that would not contribute to sprawl. The proposed law calls for these two housing complexes to have ready access to state planning grants, infrastructure funding, and “regulatory benefits.”

Those  incentives are included to help developers build the two projects in a manner that would make the units affordable to Vermonters entering the workforce.

At least 25 percent of the units in each of the two developments would be owned or rented to people whose gross annual household income does not exceed the median income of the county in which they would be built.

That number would be $59,274 if one of the two projects were to be built in Addison County. At least 50 percent of the remaining units in both developments would have to be owned or rented to people whose gross annual household income is no more than 150 percent of the county median.

 “My hope is that this bill moves ahead and that we will manage to do a bunch of these (housing projects) around the state,” Baser said during a Feb. 17 phone call from the Statehouse.

Baser is a longtime businessman and member of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. As such, he has become aware of the economic challenges facing recent high school and college graduates who find it difficult to launch their careers in the Green Mountain State, where homes and rents can be costly.

If approved and built, the two housing projects would give qualifying Vermonters the ability to purchase a home, build some equity, and then sell the asset in the future at a profit, according to Baser. He sees three major benefits to the two housing projects: Keeping young workers in Vermont, providing an employee recruitment tool for Vermont businesses, and creating more construction jobs to build the new housing.

Robin Scheu, executive director of the ACDEC, supports H.702 for its potential to help local and statewide companies attract new workers.

“Many of our employers have trouble getting people to come to the state because they can’t find suitable housing,” Scheu said. “(Prospective) employees are leaving because they can find a job for the same money and better housing somewhere else.”

Scheu noted former Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, has also been lobbying for more financial incentives for young workers to stay put in Vermont, the grayest state in the union. Gov. Peter Shumlin and former Gov. Jim Douglas have also lamented the ongoing exodus of the state’s younger generation.

Baser said House Speaker Shap Smith has identified H.702 as a bill he wants to see advance this session.

HOUSING CRUNCH STATS

Vermont’s housing crunch is well chronicled in the Vermont Department of Housing & Community Development’s “Housing Needs Assessment” report, last updated in February of 2015. It provides some interesting statistics, including:

• Among Vermont’s renter households, a total of 34,884 (47.5 percent) are “cost burdened” and 16,485 (22.4 percent) are “severely cost burdened.” “Cost burdened” is the term used to define renters who pay more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing costs. “Severely cost burdened” speaks to renters who pay more than 50 percent of their incomes on housing expenses.

• Based on 2013 data provided by American Community Survey, there are 323,936 housing units in Vermont. A total of 182,581 (71.2 percent) are owner-occupied and 73,982 (28.8 percent) are renter-occupied. While there are nearly 70,000 units classified as vacant in Vermont, more than 75 percent of those units are classified as “seasonal, recreational, or occasional use.”

• The state’s overall median price of homes sold since 2010 was $206,700, while the currently available product has a median price of $245,000.

• Absent on the housing market appear to be homes affordable to households with incomes between 95 percent and 120 percent of Area Median Household Income. The median household income in Addison County in 2014 was $53,482.

“Support should be given to first-time homebuyer programs to assist low/moderate/middle income households with purchasing their own homes. Efforts should also be made in educating the public on homebuyer programs available to such households,” the report recommends.

• Between 2015 and 2020, the greatest growth in households by age is projected to continue to occur among households between the ages of 65 and 74, which will grow by 8,403, or 21.1 percent.

• The vacancy rates within Vermont’s current housing inventory range from 1 percent (multi-family apartments) to 7.5 percent (nursing care). Vacancy rates between 4 to 6 percent for the rental-housing and the home-for-sale markets, and between 9 percent and 11 percent for senior-care housing, are considered “representative of healthy and stable markets,” according to the report.

“Vacancy rates for the various housing segments in Vermont are considered low and are clear indications that demand for each housing segment is strong,” the report states. “As a result, it appears that Vermont residents have relatively limited housing availability.”

The report also includes some Addison County-specific data, including:

· The county’s population is expected to increase by 374 (1 percent) between 2015 and 2020. Local housing is expected to grow by 291 units (2 percent) during that timeframe.

· Addison County has an overall vacancy rate of 0.2 percent for rental housing.

· As of October 2014, there were a total of 425 available-for-sale homes in the county, with a median price of $269,000.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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Addison County Independent

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