Housing Agencies Working To Protect Affordable Units

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(Host) Vermont’s key housing agencies are working to prevent several thousand affordable housing units in the state from being sold and converted to market-rate housing.

VPR’s Patti Daniels reports:

(Daniels) In the 1970s, the federal government changed the landscape of public housing. It offered private property owners big incentives to build low-income projects. The developers got low-interest mortgages and guaranteed rental income, in part through federal subsidies to renters. The catch was that the owners had to sign contracts to stay in the public housing system for 20, 30 or 40 years. Now, those contracts are expiring on 2,600 housing units in Vermont. 

Sarah Carpenter is the executive director of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, which is working to renew contracts with property owners, or buy the buildings so they can be kept as affordable housing:

(Carpenter)"The biggest challenge really is, at the end of the day, those owners can sell them at fair market value. In a lot of circumstances we’ve negotiated for the owner to sell it someone who will keep it permanently affordable, but we still need the resources to purchase it."

(Daniels) An example in Burlington shows how tricky it can be to pull those resources together. The owner of two affordable housing buildings wanted to sell at an attractive market rate now that their contracts are expiring.

But the Burlington Housing Authority wants to keep the buildings in public housing. Here’s how it’s raising the money for these two buildings. BHA will sell tax credits to investors; borrow money from VHFA and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board; and get assistance from a federal program that’s run through the city.

Richard Williams of the Vermont Housing Authority says it’s worth the effort to preserve existing affordable housing because federal rental assistance is often tied to the specific properties.

(Williams) "I think our highest priority here in Vermont should be preservation of these long-term contracts. In my opinion, it’s much less expensive to maintain these, it minimizes the disruption for the tenants, and we don’t run into the same issues that we have seen when you try to build new units here in Vermont."

(Daniels) Housing officials say they’re working hard with individual property owners to find ways to keep these apartments in the public housing system. And they say many private owners have decided to stay in the program, even though they have the option to leave.

For VPR News, I’m Patti Daniels.

Hear the entire interview with Richard Williams and Sarah Carpenter.

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