Study contradicts affordable housing claims

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(Host) A leading economist says housing in Vermont is more affordable than it has been in years. Art Woolf of the Vermont Economy newsletter says record low interest rates have more than compensated for rising home prices.

(Woolf) “And so when you finance a mortgage to buy a house, if you’re an average middle class Vermonter and you’re buying an average middle, medium priced house, you would be paying a smaller percentage of your income than just about at anytime since the mid-1970s.”

(Host) Housing advocates have pointed out that home prices have risen much faster than Vermonter’s incomes. But Woolf says prices have shot up only recently. He says that during the 1990s, prices were flat.

(Woolf) “In fact, if you take housing in Vermont and you look over the last 15 years or so. In 2003, after you adjust for inflation, in 2003, housing prices were finally at the level they were at in 1989.”

(Host) According to Woolf, affordable housing in Vermont is really only a problem for low-income people.

But Sarah Carpenter, executive director of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, says Woolf’s study tends to downplay the problem. She says the economist only looked at tax data from married people who filed joint tax returns.

(Carpenter) “He’s leaving out half of Vermont families in his analysis, by only looking at married filing jointly, you leave out over half the households in Vermont. And his affordability index include a 20 percent down payment, which of course many families don’t have.”

(Host) Both Woolf and Carpenter agree there’s a shortage of low-cost housing. They say more supply is needed to make housing affordable for those with lower incomes.

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