New buildings not always needed to solve housing shortage

ADDISON COUNTY — As developers face rising construction costs, town zoning regulations and a lack of infrastructure, the possibility of adding new affordable housing in Addison County gets more complicated. However, there are other, smaller ways to help increase local housing stock without developing new projects.
One potential solution is to encourage homeowners to build accessory dwelling units, often called in-law apartments, and rent them out.
Shaun Gilpin, a housing specialist at the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, said that Gov. Phil Scott proposed money in his budget to help homeowners who need to fix up their rental units in order to keep them in operation.
“A growing concern across the state is that a lot of our housing stock is old and aging and in need of rehabilitation,” Gilpin said.
Gilpin explained that around 83 percent of Vermont rental properties are privately owned, and many landlords do not have the income to remodel units that no longer meet housing standards. Gilpin said the goal is to provide grants to landlords to remodel their units and keep them running.
“Accessory dwelling units in particular are attractive for a lot of reasons,” he said. “From an environmental standpoint reusing something that’s already been built is more sustainable than building something new. And it allows us to maintain the character of some of our smaller towns while also increasing density.”
He also pointed out that in-law units can help elderly homeowners age in place.
“We have houses where the residents are aging and maybe moving onto a fixed income and it would allow them to get some income from that unit,” he said.
Another potential solution is HomeShare Vermont, a non-profit that connects locals looking for affordable housing with hosts who have an extra room. According to Executive Director Kirby Dunn, the average rent in their program, which operates in the counties of Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, was $287 a month.
That is because guests in the program often perform household tasks as part of their home sharing agreement instead of paying market prices for rent.
In the last fiscal year, Dunn said they made 10 matches in Addison County between guests and hosts of all ages, and they are always looking to expand.
“We always want more people to share their homes and not everybody who needs housing knows about us,” she said. “It’s harder in a less populated area … but we’d like to see our numbers increase numbers at Addison County.”

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