Making Affordable Housing Investments That Last

Helen Head

The following op-ed was written by Champlain Housing Trust Board member and former State Representative Helen Head of South Burlington. It appeared in VT Digger on February 2, 2024.

Vermont families are facing a housing crisis. Sky-high rents, high interest rates, and home prices that resemble a lottery winning are not affordable for most Vermont families. There is little, if any, housing stock available, further driving up costs and competition when units or homes do come on the market.

Today’s successful buyers are paying cash, waiving inspections, and forgoing contingencies, making it even harder for low-and moderate-income Vermonters to stand a chance. Something must change, and fast.

If we want to improve the economy of our state and the potential for our neighbors and friends to access a safe, affordable home and the opportunity homeownership provides to create modest personal wealth, there is no better way than to continue to invest in permanently affordable housing.

This approach has been a cornerstone of Vermont’s housing policy for over 35 years because of the benefits a forever investment brings to families, communities, and taxpayers.

Rental units and owned units are both offered at prices that are affordable to lower-income Vermonters and always well below market value, in perpetuity. This means Vermonters access housing that is affordable, and they will never be displaced by gentrification. The taxpayer’s investment is a lasting one, ensuring that future generations have access to decent, safe, and affordable housing for every investment of public dollars.

Here’s how it works. With homeownership programs, community land trusts like Champlain Housing Trust and others across the state hold subsidy covenants or ground leases with resale restrictions. Homeowners take all of their mortgage equity, but only can take 25% of the market appreciation with them when they sell their homes. The homes remain in the portfolio of permanently affordable units in the state, and the homeowners benefit from the wealth-building opportunities of home ownership. They move into a new home, perhaps a larger one for their growing family, or a smaller one as they look to retire or move to single story living. This makes room for those Vermonters seeking to own, often for the first time, their very own home. The public dollars we invest benefit multiple generations of homeowners, and resale prices remain well below market value.

In rental programs, units are accessible at prices below market value, shielding them from skyrocketing rental rates and low or no inventory in the highly competitive statewide housing market.

As renters move and as homeowners sell, their homes remain in the permanently affordable housing portfolio for the benefit of the next individual or family.

The bottom line is that as the price of renting, purchasing, or building single family homes and condominiums rises, Vermonters are finding themselves locked out of every aspect of the housing market. This is having a devastating impact on individuals, families, and employers. Investing in permanent affordability is a cornerstone of the solution. And more Vermonters than you may think qualify for these excellent programs. Income eligibility for the home ownership program goes up to $79,600 for a single applicant and $113,600 for a family of four.

It’s time to recommit to this investment policy. We need the policy and the public funding necessary to make it possible. The outcome will be healthier families and stronger communities across Vermont.