News

Workforce housing study sees shortage

VERGENNES — A new report from the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) demonstrates strong demand for affordable workforce housing in the county. According to the “Addison County Workforce Housing Need Assessment Report” spearheaded by three Middlebury College students, hundreds of affordable homes are needed to meet demand for workforce housing.

This chronicle comes on the heels of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission’s Housing/Population Report that says the region suffers from a lack of housing stock for low- to moderate-income families (See Addison Independent, Sept. 9, Page 1A).

During this past June through August, Middlebury College students Lily Jones, Mihir Singh and Castin Stone surveyed workers from roughly three dozen Addison County businesses to better understand the region’s workforce housing needs.

Responses from 847 individuals who work for area employers such as Middlebury College, Porter Medical Center and Cooperative Insurance confirm that high housing costs in Middlebury and surrounding towns prevent employees from living close to where they work.

According to survey findings, one-quarter of respondents wanted to live closer to work but were unable to due to lack of affordable housing. Consequently, the report estimates that Addison County would need at least 230 additional homes near downtown employment hubs to meet the need.

Over half of these units (129) must be affordable to households earning 120 percent of Area Median Income or less. Since the response rate to the survey was approximately 25 percent, these estimates likely represent a floor and the true quantity of housing needed is even higher.

ACCT Executive Director Elise Shanbacker praised the students’ efforts. “Without our three MiddWorks interns, gathering and assessing the data that is the basis of the report would have been impossible,” she said.

“There was already a critical shortage of affordable housing prior to the pandemic, and it has compounded the problem even further. This report will help us respond to the need more effectively.”

Shanbacker said that anecdotes from employers show that this shortage has been preventing them from hiring the workers they need to fill positions and restart the local economy.

“The report provides the data we need to better understand the magnitude of the challenge and inform potential solutions,” she said. “We believe policymakers from municipal to state officials will find this information useful in directing resources to workforce housing developments in Addison County.”

Other findings confirm that many workers commute from as far away as New York state and Rutland County due to high housing costs in Middlebury. Respondents from Middlebury reported average housing costs that were 82% higher than commuters from New York state. Costs in Middlebury averaged $2,179 a month vs. $1,199 a month in New York.

Respondents from New York state and Rutland County were most likely to report wanting to move closer to work, with residents of Shoreham, Chittenden County and Orwell rounding out the top five locations based on percentage of would-be movers. The full report is available online at tinyurl.com/WorkerHousing.

ACCT’s current plans will create 20 additional affordable homes in a mixed-income community on Firehouse Road in Bristol by 2023, and the organization is seeking additional opportunities in Middlebury. Meanwhile, ACCT is reinvesting in its existing stock of over 700 permanently affordable homes through planned infrastructure upgrades in mobile home parks and renovations of other existing Vergennes properties.

ACCT’s vision is to ensure that residents of Addison County have access to a solid foundation: a safe, affordable place to call home. “We strive to enrich the lives of low- and moderate-income people by ensuring the development, management and maintenance of safe, quality, affordable homes and related supports for families, seniors and individuals,” Shanbacker said.

The work of ACCT includes:

•  Property management and ownership of 334 multifamily apartments;

•  Operation of 340 lots in nine nonprofit ACCT-owned mobile home parks for owner-occupied homes;

•  Down-payment grants for low- and moderate-income homebuyers and stewardship of 78 homes currently in its perpetually affordable single-family shared equity ownership program;

•  Providing “Support and Services at Home” through the SASH program for up to 200 residents of ACCT senior housing and in surrounding communities;

•  Developing new units to help alleviate the county’s affordability crisis.

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