Housing shortage worsens in Rutland

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(Host) Rutland housing officials say homelessness is on the rise in Rutland and they’re worried it’s going to get worse. They say this past winter’s record high fuel prices, low temperatures and home fires have created a difficult situation.

VPR’s Nina Keck has more:

(Keck) Rich Jorgensen is associate director for Community Services at BROC Community Action in southwestern Vermont. He says they expect to help twice as many households this year as they did last year with things like rent, food and fuel assistance. Jorgensen says demand at their food shelf, for example, is up 40% compared to where it was in 2001.

(Jorgensen) “And food need is symptomatic of a number of things: increased cost of housing, utilities, fuel, reduction in income as the result of job loss or cutting down of job hours.”

(Keck) A spate of recent house fires has made a bad situation worse. Caprice Hover is executive director of the Rutland County Housing Coalition, another organization in Rutland that provides housing assistance.

(Hover) “We’ve seen a huge number of fires because of heavy snow build up and gas being built up, so the fires have caused an increase in homelessness this year. Also, the affordability of apartments has skyrocketed. It used to be you could find a one-bedroom apartment for $450 bucks with heat included. That’s very rare now. People are paying more, and wages are not keeping up.”)

(Keck) And federal programs that provide working families with housing assistance are shrinking fast. The Bush administration cut the Federal Housing and Urban Development Budget by over 30% this year. Hundreds of people in Rutland already receive help from HUD, but Hover says that the hundreds of others who have applied for similar funds may now have to wait years to get it.

(Hover) “My fear is that very quickly, we’re going to be back to seeing a waiting list that’s three to four years long. And most of these people are paying 60-70% of their income towards their rent. If you’re making $8.00 an hour, you’re bringing home maybe $170 a week. Figure that out. If you have a child, you’re bumming. I mean anybody lucky enough to get an $8.00 an hour job, and they have children, they’re still suffering.”

(Keck) According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Vermonter needs to earn $13.58 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at fair market rent. That’s more than double the state’s minimum wage. And money is only part of the problem. Hover says Rutland simply doesn’t have enough rental units – especially larger ones for families.

(Hover) “When a landlord puts an advertisement in the paper for a two-bedroom apartment they get approximately 75 calls per apartment. Now when you get to a three-bedroom, it’s well over 100 [calls]. So you’re talking about a lot of need and not a lot of apartments.”

(Keck) Despite that need, Hover says she does not expect local for-profit landlords to add much more rental housing. Property management is difficult she says, and renovating old buildings is expensive. But there is some good news. She says a Burlington developer hopes to break ground next month on a Rutland city project that will include 61 moderately priced single family homes and duplexes. And just a few blocks away, the Rutland Community Land Trust hopes to begin construction on 10 new subsidized apartments – eight of which would be large enough for families.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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