Affordable housing in Shelburne

Wright House resident Dottie Loftus waters her hummingbird garden on Harrington Avenue on June 24. Photo by Lynn Monty.
Wright House resident Dottie Loftus waters her hummingbird garden on Harrington Avenue on June 24. Photo by Lynn Monty.
By Heather McKim

Affordable housing is an issue that has been a focus in Vermont in recent years, including in the town of Shelburne. For housing to be affordable, no one should pay more than 30 percent of their income, Shelburne Town Planner Dean Pierce said.

Nationally in 2013, forty-nine percent of renter households and 25.5 percent of homeowners were cost-burdened, Harvard’s State of the Nation’s Housing 2015 Report said.

Shelburne’s numbers are only slightly different. In 2010, there were 3,085 housing units in Shelburne. Of that, 2,225 were owner-occupied and 655 renter-occupied. Pierce pointed to Vermont Housing Data’s data profiles, which show that during 2009-2013, 31.5 percent of Shelburne’s owner-occupied housing units were at or above 30 percent of household income. Of that number, 10.3 percent were actually at or above half of their household income.

The picture for renters was even less pleasant. During that period, there were 667 rental units, with 36.4 percent paying at or above 30 percent of their household income. Of those, 24.1 percent saw half or more of their household income going toward rent.

The issue goes beyond straining household budgets. George Leibowitz, Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Vermont Department of Social Work, points to the overlap between the issue of affordable housing and other issues such as homelessness, poverty and crime. Here a lack of affordable housing is pointed to as one of the forces in the state’s problem with homelessness, and the creation of more affordable housing availability is pointed to as one of the solutions.

Leibowitz said the answer is not just to make cheap housing, they need to have a good support network and access to other services.

Town Manager Joe Colangelo expressed a similar sentiment, pointing to the importance of good access to the public transit system as one important element in the location of good affordable housing.

The difficulties of affordable housing in Vermont is well-known to many who find their way to the transitional housing facility Harbor Place. Champlain Housing Trust’s Communications Director Chris Donnelly said with the exception of those fleeing domestic violence situations, most guests have ended up at the facility due to the lack of affordable housing within the region.

Donnelly said that Champlain Housing Trust, which serves three counties, sees about 150 applications each month for rental housing. There are generally only about 15 available units.

Shelburne can be a difficult place to find housing within the affordable range, with an average primary residence selling price in 2014 of $432,147 and median gross rent of $1,263 for the 2009-2013 period.

There have been steps toward a solution. “Over the past year, Shelburne has made some strides in offering affordable housing stock in the heart of the village,” Colangelo said, pointing to the addition of Harrington Village and upgrades to the Shelburnewood mobile home park.

At present, there are no definite plans for more affordable housing projects in town. Donnelly said that Champlain Housing Trust is still in talks with Tony Pomerleau regarding a piece of land, however, it is too early to discuss what direction development might take if the property were obtained.

Moving forward, many think affordable housing will continue to be an issue facing Shelburne and other communities throughout the state. “Tackling the issue of poverty and homelessness is huge,” Leibowitz said.