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OPINION: Support Affordable Housing


by Eileen Peltier, executive director, Downstreet Housing and Community Development

Two weeks ago I testified at the State House to ask the legislature to support the governor’s proposed $35 million bond for affordable housing; last week Vermont mayors and other advocates of the bond gathered at the State House for a press conference. In supporting this bond, my organization and our partners can build great new affordable housing while also adding short-term jobs in construction and related industries. The long-term benefits include strengthened communities through the growing of our city and town grand lists and healthier, safer and more sustainable communities through smart growth and green design.

Nearly one third of families live in households that are housing cost burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. That number translates to about 36,000 children living on the edge of homelessness, food insecurity and the many other risks of poverty. According to a report released by Voices for Vermont Children, there are approximately 2,000 children experiencing homelessness defined as lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Some recent data from Barre’s Good Samaritan Haven states they served from 2014 to 2016 54 veterans, 26 elderly adults and 62 victims of domestic violence. In this beautiful state that offers so much to so many, this is simply unacceptable.

The challenge we all face to address the affordable housing crisis lies not only in adding new affordable homes. At Downstreet we often say that housing provides the first critical need for security and stability, but it is not enough. For many families to be successful, Vermont needs to invest in the necessary social services that are an integral part of the wrap-around approach to addressing poverty. Affordable housing providers collaborate every day with mental health agencies, community action agencies and a host of other critical support agencies. Whether it is providing homes and services through the Family Center of Washington County to homeless families, or offering financial wellness classes to our communities, we are committed to comprehensive solutions to poverty.

Investing $35 million in affordable housing through the governor’s bond proposal is the right tool to reduce the unacceptable number of Vermonters living day to day and being forced to choose between paying the rent and buying groceries. A stable, secure, affordable home is the first step toward reducing poverty and providing all of Vermont’s children and families the opportunity to live the Vermont dream.