Jan 5 Department of Housing Update

Chairman Stevens invited Alex Farrell (Commissioner, Department of Housing & Community Development) and Shaun Gilpin (Housing Division Director, Department of Housing & Community Development) to provide overviews and updates to the House General & Housing Committee on Friday.

Farrell reviewed “Tactical Action Plans” as requested by Stevens. Sub-committees have developed “two strong reports” with recommendations ready to implement.

One of the goals he outlined is to determine by region what housing deficits exist and how many units will each region need, over time, to overcome housing deficits. Representative Chesnut-Tangerman inquired about the definition of “healthy housing market” and how that was different from meeting current housing needs.

Farrell explained that a 5% vacancy rate is roughly healthy in housing generally. Vermont currently has a 3% ownership and a 2% rental rate, with some areas approaching 1%. They originally set a goal of 5% overall but it soon became clear that was unrealistic, so they operated on a goal of 3% ownership and 5% rental vacancy rates.

It appears the immediate need was 6800 units to make up the deficit. That is real-time, so it does not take into account any renovation needs, shortages due to workforce growth and childbirth rates.

The Committee asked whether the “rental registry” was helpful in this exercise. The Department stuck with US Census figures as base data in order to maintain consistency. However, Farrell acknowledged that, based on the registry, the vacancy rates are slightly high so the situation is slightly worse than the US Census data would suggest.

Gilpin added that they enjoy close working relationship with the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA), as they are a “data heavy group,” and suggested housingdata.org and the “Community Profiles” section to find useful metrics and county/town data. 

Pivoting to flood recovery, Farrell shared that they stood up an emergency program to provide relief for mobile home parks or other units that were in danger of condemnation.  FEMA dropped the ball because with these because they were not being provided the minimums needed (about $41K) to cover relocation and alternative housing. The department set up grants to cover gaps here very quickly.

Manufactured Housing Improvement & Repair (MHIR) is pretty much on track at about $30K per unit. The most recent quarterly report shows roughly 300 units in the pipeline. Gilpin noted that these projects are split about 50/50 between small developers and homeowner/duplex family-owned units. Farrell commented that the demand is “blowing though” budgeted allocations and that the program was very successful, cost-effective, and in demand.

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