Coalition Draws Attention to Lack of Affordable Housing

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(Host) Vermont faces a housing shortage that builders, environmentalists, banks and community leaders must work together to solve.

That¿s the message of a new public awareness campaign that was launched recently by a coalition of state and private groups.

VPR¿s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Organizers of the housing awareness campaign are armed with statistics that they say shows Vermont is not building enough housing to meet demand.

The median purchase price of a home has gone up 22% from 1995. A recent study of six northwestern Vermont counties showed a shortage of 7,400 housing units And the vacancy rate in Burlington, which tracks how many places are available for rent, has dropped below 1%.

Gretchen Rittenhouse is executive director of the Twin Pines Housing Trust in White River Junction. She says the housing crunch is not just an issue in the larger cities. She says the problem is statewide:

(Rittenhouse) ¿Rents are rising fairly dramatically. It¿s become increasingly difficult for folks, lower wage workers in our area, to find any kind of rental housing within their means without a tremendously long search and a whole lot of luck.¿

(Dillon) The goal of the awareness campaign is to build support for new housing construction around the state. Organizers have formed a coalition of 22 organizations to bring the message to the airwaves and out to communities. They¿ve enlisted Governor Howard Dean and Senators James Jeffords and Patrick Leahy to record radio advertisements on the issue.

John Fairbanks works for the Vermont House Finance Agency and is coordinating the campaign. He says the housing shortage acts as a drag on the economy, while housing construction creates jobs:

(Fairbanks) ¿Right now there¿s a serious shortage in our state. And the shortage of housing drives up the cost of rents and home purchase prices, which then acts kind of like a vicious cycle which comes around to make housing even less accessible for average people. And we also want to point out that if housing is created in a responsible way, in a way that recognizes the character of our neighborhoods and … respects Vermont¿s environmental heritage, that that housing can be a benefit to our communities.¿

(Dillon) The housing advocates want towns to plan for new housing, and to use zoning by-laws that encourage mixed use and clustered housing development.

For Vermont Public Radio, I¿m John Dillon.

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