Matt Dunne on Omnibus Housing Bill

Matt Dunne testified in front of the Senate Economic Development Committee Friday morning.

Key takeaways:

  • Flexibility is needed
  • Every community is different
  • There have been significant shifts in winners/losers over the past 40 years

He wanted to talk to the Committee about workforce housing ideas and revolving loan funds. He said that his company, the Center for Rural Innovation focuses on building technological economies in rural places. Currently, they are in six communities in Vermont plus another twenty-nine across the country. Dunne noted there is not a one-size-fits-all approach that will work. Rather the legislature has to keep in mind that every area is different and requires a different approach. 

The area he hoped to focus on was Springfield, where they are dealing with current housing issues (like almost everywhere else) with no incentives. Within Windsor County, Norwich and White River Junction are booming while Springfield and Claremont are struggling to realize the same kind of activity that the northern part of the county has experienced. This is a reversal of 40 years ago. In the age of innovation and intellectual property "spin offs" from Dartmouth Hitchcock they are seeing economic activity at significantly higher levels in that part of the county.

Over 10% of units in Springfield are committed to lower income. The development costs the same as in White River Junction but you can’t get the same price for either purchase or rent. That leaves the only option for Springfield to have housing deeply subsidized. The homes in Springfield are comprised of a single demographic who have to travel to work, adding to the cost of living. Getting out of poverty becomes harder and the community is not able to balance demographics. There is also no opportunity for young professionals to live and work. 

Dunne and others in Springfield want to develop theatre space and gym space along with twenty-four units within the same redeveloped facility. Other development efforts in the downtown have also struggled to make space attractive to young professionals. Springfield is not lone, Newport and other parts of the state are experiencing the same challenge. He believes we need an ambitious approach if we are going to have the impact we want to have. He's had discussions with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board about what funds can be used, but they still don’t allow for this type of downtown revitalization. He is adamant that flexibility is need in downtown areas to make them successful. 

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