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EDITORIAL: Affordable Housing: A Challenge Facing Us

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by Nat Frothingham

Editor’s note:  Here is a lightly edited email exchange on the subject of affordable housing in Montpelier between Nat Frothingham at The Bridge and Kevin Casey, community development specialist at the city’s Planning & Development office.

Frothingham:  I’m aware that finding affordable housing, particularly for young adults in Montpelier is a problem. Can you comment on this?

Casey: Nat, it is true that finding affordable housing is a challenge, not just for young people but people of all ages and socioeconomic status.

The 2013 American Community Survey conducted the US Census estimated Montpelier’s vacancy rate at 0.9 percent. A healthy housing market has a five percent vacancy rate. To that end, the city of Montpelier has worked with the Central Vermont Community Land Trust and the Montpelier Housing Authority to increase the number of affordable housing units in Montpelier. Specifically, with the addition of 14 senior housing units above the Montpelier Senior Activity Center, eight units at the Bianchi Hebert building on Barre Street, 34 units at River Station on Barre Street. In addition, in 2014 the city of Montpelier in partnership with CVCLT secured $510,000 in CDBG funds through the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) for the rehabilitation of 39 and 40 Barre Streets, which will provide 18 units of housing to a high needs population , construction will begin this summer. These projects have helped to add supply that would otherwise not be available.

Frothingham: Kevin, in terms of affordable housing, what specifically is on offer at the One Taylor Street development?

Casey:  The issue of affordable housing was discussed in great length during the charette process which took place last spring and summer. (Video of the final charrette meeting can be viewed at the ORCA media site by searching “Taylor.”)

Redstone will be developing market rate housing above the transit center. The development team from Redstone looked at an affordable housing component to the project but it was determined it would not be feasible based on time frame, construction costs, or rate of return. Affordable Housing projects require a tremendous amount of time and money and considering the specific project constraints it would have pushed the project out years. Additionally, to successfully complete a private-public partnership — as this is — the project has to be economically feasible for the private developer. In this case, Redstone could not make affordable housing financially work without significant subsidies which are not available for this project.

Frothingham: What is the mix of housing options (size of apartments and actual rents) at the projected One Taylor Street?

Casey: Under the current plans, Redstone will develop between 34 and 40 market rate rental units above the transit center at 1 Taylor Street. This will include a mix of studio, one and two bedroom apartments. Currently it is estimated that the rental rates will between $950 and $1,500.

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