I attended a meeting last night about the future of housing in Montpelier. Montpelier has some interesting trends, which make housing a critical issue for the city. First, we have more jobs in the city than we have residents, which means that there’s work to be had here, and that there are a lot of people in both the private sector and in state government who work in the city but live outside it. Second, our infrastructure, our water and sewer systems, our schools, could hold more than their current capacity, which means that growth wouldn’t cost taxpayers additional money for built up infrastructure, and would actually reduce individual tax burden as more people share the same infrastructure costs. Finally, the city’s population has been in slow but steady decline for the past 20 years while the housing options stayed the same– there are fewer people living in the same number of houses and apartments. The average household size in the city of Montpelier is 1.87 residents. That means that a lot of singles and couples are living in homes that could accommodate larger families, were there some single-person units to move into.
All this makes Montpelier a dream location for a developer seeking to build condos, houses or apartment units for families, or senior citizen apartments. So the town is looking into incentive programs and growth strategies to help this happen, and to keep such housing affordable.
Let me say, I support this. I think affordable housing, particularly for seniors, is important. I think having more family-friendly homes and apartments will draw younger families to Montpelier, and help folks settle closer to downtown, cutting down on commuting, parking, and pollution caused by people driving in from outside.
That’s not what I was talking about when I said I was interested in affordable housing. I’m interested in assuring there is housing that is affordable for someone living on minimum wage, or on disability, housing that is subsidized and promotes working toward sustainability either as a renter or an owner. I’m talking about safe, clean units that people would want to live in and could afford to not only pay for rent but for heat and electricity as well.I’m also talking about shelter available on an emergency basis, when it gets so cold that most of us shudder at the thought of our *pets* (in their fur coats) sleeping outside, and there are people who have to.
Developers aren’t as interested in this kind of thing. There’s not a lot of money in it, you see. Maybe, maybe, if people sell off their new units, and families move up into them and seniors move into a new apartment complex that caters to their needs and smaller rental units become available, maybe some of the lowest-cost housing will open up and could be redeveloped as housing for those currently without houses.
But do we really want to barter the safety and indeed, on cold winter nights, the lives of Montpelier’s houseless women and men against the odds of trickle-down housing economics?