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Letters to the Editor: State is a needed partner in affordable housing effort

Editor’s note: This letter is in response to Bryan Jones’ letter that ran in the July 24 Addison Independent under the headline “Landlord challenges affordable housing and taxes.”
As a participant in the housing summit and director of Addison County’s affordable housing nonprofit, I agree with some of Bryan’s premises but disagree with his conclusion. I would absolutely believe property taxes are restricting the supply of available rental units, though I haven’t seen hard data to show it, and I also acknowledge that some of the tenants who don’t meet our criteria then go look for housing on the private rental market.
That said, we are absolutely sharing the task of housing vulnerable people who may struggle to pay the rent or have checkered housing histories. Nearly 15 percent of our units are occupied by families and individuals who have experienced homelessness, and that is likely an undercount.
Furthermore, I disagree with the conclusion that the state should get out of the rental business. A pro forma with reasonable assumptions about operating costs and debt costs generally demonstrates that developers can’t afford to build new stock until their effective gross rent clears at least a thousand dollars per month, and depending on the area and specific site, often that number is more like $1,500/month. This is simply not affordable to someone earning median income in Addison County, and calls for public investment in my view. Furthermore, our cost to build units is not the half a million dollars Bryan asserts, but more like $250,000 to build highly energy efficient but modest units. Our properties pay property taxes too.
I admit I am a believer that the state can be a force for good in people’s lives. I also think we need to better address the opioid crisis, help people access services, and stimulate the economy so that for-cause and nonpayment evictions become fewer and farther between — something I think tenants and landlords can agree would be better for everyone.
Elise Shanbacker
Executive Director, Addison County Community Trust
Vergennes

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