Affordable for who?

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.

But.

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?

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6 Responses

  1. Appreciate the interest you have shown and the concerns you have been raising as well as the efforts you are making regarding these matters Pastor Becca. Thank you.

  2. Dear Pastor Becca,

    Thank you for your words of support of the effort the city is making to make housing more affordable. My experience with efforts to produce housing for everyone would suggest that it is important to look at the housing needs at each rung of the housing tenure ladder, from homeless shelters and single room occupancy buildings up to limited equity ownership and market rate housing.

    While the Growth Center initiative is one effort the city is making to facilitate affordable housing, it is not the only one. My office manages the delivery of housing preservation grants to low income residents, the city supports the efforts of the Central Vermont Community Land Trust, which provides affordable rental and homeownership opportunities for many income levels, and we have a housing trust fund that enables affordable housing development.

    I just want to reassure you that the city shares your commitment to affordable housing for everyone – not just housing for people who can afford market rate units.

    Best, Gwen.

  3. Homeless shelters is not housing and, it certainly is not the type of institutional approach I or most others would choose to reside, neither is so-called transitional housing.

    If you think it is so good, feel free to live there for a long time with nothing else to love onto from there.

    What is needed is permanent, safe and decent housing of the sort most anyone would choose to live in, even if on a smaller scale, but actually that would be better for most people as well: e.g., the type of housing terms as Katrina Cottages or Mema Cottages, which come in different sizes as well as types and can be built according to the needs of a given area. These would lend themselves to home ownership opportunities.

    It is time to think and do something both different as well as better, since the ways things have been done up to now have all failed, thus we should not rely on failed approaches to solve these matters, including doing something for and to people rather than with them.

    The truth is the city has failed in helping those most in need with what is needed in real terms when it comes to housing and does not care anything whatsoever for those most in need other than to make sure they are out of sight, out of mind.

    The city has proved it cannot be depended on to provide such leadership, not meaningfully so anyway. Nor have certain other entities that should be doing so on such matters. Thus it is time for like-minded citizens to both prod and do instead.

    “If the people will lead, eventually the leaders will follow.”

  4. typo correction, 2nd paragraph *should* instead read:

    […]

    …, feel free to live there for a long time with nothing else to *move* onto from there.

    […]

  5. Dear MWB,

    Thanks for your comments! You are right – I shouldn’t have said homeless shelters, perhaps, but rather how we need housing options for people who are homeless. Past strategies have not worked, I agree.

    The fact is that we need to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. Everything after that is a band aid solution that doesn’t necessarily address the roots of the problem, and can sometimes inadvertently make it worse.

    The city has been working hard on prevention as well as on proactive housing development. A couple of initiatives we have taken in the last year are the Capital Area Neighborhoods project, where we’ve been working to organize neighborhoods so people will feel more supported where they live. We need more help with this. Last fall, we canvassed the entire community to try and give everyone a neighbor’s number to call if they felt as if they were in crisis over the winter, and this winter the existence of that system has addressed several serious problems that people have had. People can contact the planning department at 223-9506 if they would like to know more about what’s going on in their neighborhood.

    The other initiative we have introduced is the Onion River Exchange, a tax exempt exchange system that allows people to trade goods and services without using money. Since it is tax exempt, people can participate in it without worrying about increasing their income and losing important benefits. Since it started last April, we’ve recruited over 200 members who have traded 2500 hours worth of goods and services. People can sign up for the exchange in the planning department at City Hall.

    Preventing homelessness involves a wide variety of strategies, some of which don’t always seem like they are directly related. We would encourage anyone who wants to know more about all the work the city is doing to join the enVision Montpelier project and give us your ideas about strategies we need to implement on all of these topics. We are in the strategy design phase right now.

    Best, Gwen.

  6. Thank you for the great version of this blog post on the Opinion page within this week’s edition of the Montpelier Bridge Pastor Becca:
    http://montpelierbridge.com/april2-09Bridge.pdf

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