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Affordable Homes Coming to Northfield Street

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Gray 4-square house with snow outside.
Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity recently renovated this house at 11 Highland Ave in Barre, Vermont as part of its mission to provide affordable homeownership to low- and moderate-income Vermonters. Courtesy photo.
If all goes as planned, Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity may develop at least 50 housing units on Northfield Street in Montpelier. This size development is beyond the usual scope of the organization, which typically builds one house per year, according to Executive Director Zachariah Watson. But the local affiliate of an international organization has some support, plus the need is great, particularly during a time when housing prices have spiked and homeownership is out of reach for many low- and moderate-income Vermonters.

“Habitat for Humanity stands alone in terms of developing homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income Vermonters,” Watson said. “When we look at larger housing developments in the state they are primarily rentals at fair market value. Nobody else is doing development for homeownership with low-income families.”

Affordable Housing Across the Street from Market-Rate Housing

Watson said Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity has a purchase option on a 50-acre parcel of land across the street from where the Brown Derby restaurant once stood (and  where another potential development is in the works: a 42-unit apartment building planned by brothers Rick and Mark Bove of Chittenden County. The Bove’s have said they intend to build mostly one-bedroom apartments at market rates, a different plan than the affordable family housing that Watson said he has in mind).

Watson said only 15 acres out of the 50 that Habitat will purchase is flat enough for housing. The remaining 35 acres is shaped “like a broad U” around the planned housing and features steep slopes. That section will go into a conservation easement, he said, potentially becoming a city park.

The project awaits the results of a feasibility study, due in August. The $60,000 study was able to move forward because the Montpelier City Council recently approved a change in zoning on the property from “rural” to “Residential 9000.”.

A Mission for Affordable Homeownership

Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity (CVHH) is one of seven Vermont chapters of the global nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, which has chapters in all 50 states, and in 70 countries, according to its website. The Central Vermont affiliate is one of the smaller offices, with just Watson on staff.  

“We’re a Christian ecumenical nonprofit, and housing is our ministry,” Watson said. The organization builds or rehabs houses and sells them to its “partner homeowners” at low rates, he noted.

“The simplified version is we use volunteers [and] sweat equity to keep the project affordable, the cost of the home cheap, and we offer an affordable mortgage at 0% interest at or below 30% of their income,” Watson said. “Payments to the mortgage cycle into a revolving fund where money cycles into the next project. That really factors into our capacity, so the more homeowners we have, the more capacity we have. As we build more homes, our capacity increases.”

All this means that a development with 50-plus units in Montpelier not only will provide both affordable rental units (through a CVHH partnership with Downstreet Housing and Community Development), but also homes for sale to Vermonters living between 30% and 80% of the local median household income, with a no-interest mortgage (Watson said he has flexibility within that range, and interested people should apply even if they are not sure they qualify financially). Watson said he plans to work with Downstreet to provide rental options and build affordable homes along with market-rate homes, the sale price of which helps fund the project.

50 Unit Minimum

Without a completed feasibility study, the exact mix of housing is still unclear he said. But, he added, the project needs to include a minimum of 50 units to be viable.

“For us 50 units is our starting place, but we probably need more,” he said. “We think it’s possible for us to build potentially somewhere between 75 and optimistically 100.”

The idea of homeownership is essential to what CVHH does, Watson said, quoting Vermont state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, who said in a committee meeting in February that “Home ownership creates middle income families.”

For information about becoming a CVHH partner homeowner, go to the website.

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