Vermont housing and conservation advocates are on a roll … for the second year the Vermont Housing & Conservation Coalition, with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, won increased revenues for the state Housing & Conservation Trust Fund. The Fund’s dedicated revenue source—a portion of the property transfer tax—was restored, following several years of sharp cuts intended to help the State close funding gaps. Funding for FY2013 was increased by $1.2 million to $14 million for the Housing & Conservation Trust Fund.
Governor Peter Shumlin pledged full funding of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund (under its authorizing statute, the Fund is to receive one-half of the revenues generated by the state’s property transfer tax) on the campaign trail two years ago and he has met his promise through budget recommendations both last year and this year.
State advocates say both the Governor and state legislative leaders understand the key role played by affordable housing and conservation in fostering economic development and maintaining vibrant communities. They understand that investment in affordable housing spurs jobs. They understand that employers need affordable housing opportunities to attract employees and retain a capable workforce. They understand that permanently supportive housing—with needed services—are imperative for ending homelessness.
And state advocates provided the information necessary to support these views and to strengthen their grassroots constituency with the tools and information for effective advocacy. Campaign materials were restructured and updated to provide the necessary data to illustrate the economic advantages of investing in affordable housing. They are posted online here.
These reports include basic housing need data, an assessment of the housing delivery system in Vermont, a report on how housing/conservation efforts stimulate the economy, comprehensive information on the accomplishments of the Fund, and concrete examples of how the Fund responded to the Tropical Storm Irene. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board provided $2 million in funding over two years to help provide the 25% match needed to take advantage of FEMA’s flood hazard buy-out program.
In addition, housing and conservation advocates have been intentional and consistent in educating the public and elected officials about the outstanding record of the Trust Fund and the key contributions of the nonprofit housing community in the responsible use of public dollars and the impact these programs have had on communities and their families. Vermont advocates understand that this work is year-round.
Policy makers are invited to ground breakings and ribbon cuttings on new developments providing an opportunity to meet local folks who live in the affordable homes provided. The annual legislative day sponsored by these advocates is always one of the best attended and organized events at the state house. Chris Donnelly of the Champlain Housing Trust and housing co-chair of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition reflects, “We are fortunate in Vermont to have good access to our policy-makers. We engage our legislators and administration year round and state leaders have come to understand how valuable this program is to low-income Vermonters while being an important component of the economic vitality of the state.”
The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) was established by the General Assembly in 1987. VHCB makes loans and grants to nonprofit organizations, municipalities and state agencies that work on conservation and affordable housing projects in Vermont communities. VHCB is one of a few programs of its kind in the country, emphasizing the dual goals of conservation and affordable housing, investments that are critical to Vermont’s economic vitality and quality of life. By responding to local needs, VHCB supports a variety of solutions from creating supportive housing for veterans to redeveloping underused historic buildings as workforce housing; from conserving recreation areas on Lake Champlain to keeping farms in production and owner-operated. VHCB’s bottom-up approach ensures that solutions are tailored to successfully meet local needs and circumstances.
Through December 2011, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board had invested $260 million through loans and grants in more than 200 different communities throughout Vermont. These funds have helped to create 10,544 affordable homes for 26,000 Vermonters. More information regarding the Housing and Conservation Fund is available on the Housing and Conservation Board website: www.vhcb.org.
Advocates for housing and conservation formed the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition in 1986 to establish the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund through the Vermont Legislature. With more than 60 participating organizations, the Coalition provides information in support of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund to the general public, the Vermont Legislature, and the Administration. Kenn Sassorossi of Housing Vermont credits the work of advocates, “The coalition of affordable housing and conservation advocates has endured because each appreciates the critical importance the other plays in sustaining a Vermont that works for everyone.”