Council Allocates FY 16 Budget Money to Housing Trust Fund

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Thursday November 20, 2014

After hearing the presentation of a resolution to establish a South Burlington Housing Trust Fund November 17 from affordable housing committee members Larry Michaels and Sandy Dooley, the City Council has agreed to allocate an amount toward this trust fund in the FY 16 budget “in a range of 100,000 to 200,000 dollars.”

The work leading to this outcome began in the fall of 2013 when Chair Of The Affordable Housing Committee, (now interim City Councilor) John Simson, came before the council with the results of an initial study and report called “The Path to Sustainability.” The report spoke to the limited availability of affordable housing for lower and moderate income residents in the city and the need to find ways to increase the supply. As a means to achieve this, the report recommended the city consider developing an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is a public sector tool used to direct financial resources to the development of affordable housing for low income households. This type of fund has been used successfully in three other Vermont municipalities: Charlotte, Montpelier, and Burlington.

At the June 2, 2014 meeting of the City Council, Simson and his fellow feasibility committee members (Helen Riehle, Sandy Dooley, Gretchen Calcagni, Eric Farrell, James Knapp, and Larry Michaels, Ken Schatz was not present) suggested the council create a South Burlington Affordable Housing Trust Fund and identify one or more funding sources in order to address the shortfall in housing for households in the 50%-80% median income range. On August 4, 2014 the council voted unanimously to support the establishment of a South Burlington Housing Trust Fund.

The resolution presented to the council November 17 was drafted with input from City Manager Kevin Dorn and Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, and and outlined five proposed actions. The first is to create a trust fund as well as a standing affordable housing committee. The second is to direct the affordable housing committee, with the assistance of the city attorney, to draft organizational documents and by-laws for the trust fund. Another proposed action is to direct the affordable housing committee to prepare a charter change to be included on the city’s November 2016 ballot, which would add one half of one percent to the local options rooms and meals tax and would dedicate the proceeds to the housing trust fund. The resolution also proposes an action dedicated to building awareness and understanding of the trust fund among various interest groups such as businesses and residents.

The point of the resolution that stirred the most discussion at Monday night’s meeting involved a statement that the council would agree to include $200,000 in the FY 16 budget to provide money for project planning and financing of the trust fund during FY 16. When acting Chair Pat Nowak asked about the $200,000 figure, Simson said the reasoning behind the number was that the committee wanted to be in a position within the next eighteen months to participate in projects. Michaels added, “We need to show we’re in the game and serious about it.”

In addition to the information provided by Dooley and Michaels, Chief Operating Financial Officer of the Champlain Housing Trust Michael Monte was on hand to shed light on how his organization works. Monte explained that the trust brings together four or five different sources of funds in order to support their mission of providing affordable housing. The trust rents housing with heat included and works to make them as efficient as possible by incorporating LED lighting and solar panels on roofs. He also added that South Burlington is an ideal spot for affordable housing.

“I can think of three or four projects we could use this money for in South Burlington,” Monte said, “I can’t think of any in Milton.” Monte explained that when a project is identified as a possibility, the trust still needs to have the project screened heavily. It would still need to go before the Development Review Board, Design Review, environmental review, and be vetted for archaeological issues.”Just because you give us the money, doesn’t mean we can build whatever we want...the money doesn’t guarantee a permit,” Monte said.

Nowak said she appreciated the work that had been done on this important issue and suggested the resolution be amended to consider an “amount between 100,000 to 200,000 dollars” in the FY 16 budget to support the efforts of the committee. All councilors were in agreement.

The council plans on reviewing the FY 16 budget January 10, 2015, where they will have an opportunity to solidify the precise amount that will be allotted to the trust fund.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent