In the News, 02/23/2017
Barre nonprofit makes a difference in Vermont housing
The Times Argus | February 23, 2017
From the BARRE PARTNERSHIP
The National Low Income Housing Coalition ranked Vermont the 13th most expensive rental market based on the Fair Market Rent of $1,099 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. The report noted Vermont’s hourly Housing Wage necessary to afford housing, in which housing expenses should account for no more than 30 percent of income, would be $21.13. In Washington County, it was slightly lower at $18.96 and the Burlington-So. Burlington market was $26.08. Statewide, someone would need to make $16.58 an hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment. The problem of affordability is real and state lawmakers have recently proposed some solutions.
Gov. Phil Scott has proposed a $35 million housing bond targeting a full spectrum of needs to increase net new housing units by increasing single family and multi-family housing and target rehabilitation opportunities in our historic downtowns and villages. Lawmakers are also targeting a $2 per-night “occupancy fee” on lodging that would include hotels, inns, B&B’s and Airbnb. The estimated $10 million it would raise would be used to build new housing stock and rehabilitate existing properties. One central Vermont business, Home Share Now in Barre, takes a social entrepreneurship approach to delivering solutions that address the lack of affordable housing while also strengthening existing homeownership for many seniors.
Home Share Now has existed since 2003 and is part of the “sharing economy” in which homeowners with unused bedrooms are matched up with home seekers. A vetting process ensures that the needs of both parties are accounted for and a written agreement makes for clear, shared expectations. For senior homeowners, this type of housing partnership delivers companionship, transportation, help with meals and a protective presence. In addition, any rent that is paid helps to supplement fixed incomes and for some older adults, the benefits of home sharing can ward off the transition to assisted living.
Home seekers benefit with extremely low rent. In 2016, the average monthly rent for a Home Share Now match was $323 — a considerable difference which, for many adults, means the difference in pursuing entrepreneurial ambitions or moving to Vermont. Recently, I spoke with two individuals about their experience being matched by Home Share Now. Gail, a retired widow, wanted the companionship that comes with having another person in her house. She tried renting to individuals on her own, but just couldn’t find the right person. Sharon wanted to move back to Vermont to be closer to her aging parents and was discouraged by how unaffordable rental housing was in central Vermont. Both learned of Home Share Now and enrolled in the program.
Both Gail and Sharon described Home Share Now’s vetting process as critical to the successful match. Sharon rents a bedroom from Gail and both share the rest of the house. Each come and go as they please and keep each other company. A two-week trial period allowed both women to get to know one another in a stress-free manner. Gail described the presence of Sharon as comforting and for Sharon, the ability to move back to Vermont to be close to her parents has been fulfilling. It’s been just four months since they were matched and, notwithstanding one mishap involving Gail’s dog, Rocky — he discovered a package of chicken in one of Sharon’s grocery bags one day — both Gail and Sharon recommend the process to anyone in their situations.
This matchmaking success is one of many Home Share Now has created since their inception. In fiscal year 2016 there were 94 affordable housing units created via home sharing which, if they been newly constructed, would have cost nearly $19 million. Home Share Now had just over $147,000 in financial support from the state of Vermont and the federal government in FY 2016; Vermont has generously level-funded home sharing services for the last decade. The remaining $112,000 is raised from individuals, foundations, municipalities, and fee for service.
Home Share Now is working to increase the quality of life for our seniors while helping to provide affordable housing to both middle-aged adults in transition as well as a younger generation who want to enjoy Vermont and all that it offers.
Joshua Jerome is the executive director of the Barre Partnership.