Montpelier, VT – January 27, 2009 – (RealEstateRama) – Members of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition (VHCC) gathered at the Vermont State House to express their grave concern about Governor Douglas’s proposal to cut the budget of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) by 70 percent. The proposed budget cuts would result in a massive reduction of investment in affordable housing and the elimination of all funding for land conservation.
Every day it seems we are hearing about additional losses of good jobs for Vermonters. In these times we need to look what helps Vermont’s economy grow. Investments in housing construction and rehabilitation, and in farm and forestland conservation, brings money into local economies by spurring the construction of homes and barns, and by supporting local businesses that sell agricultural products, lumber and equipment.
Ken Sassarossi from Housing Vermont spoke about what lower-income families stand to lose under the Governor’s proposal. “VHCB leverages more than $4 for every dollar appropriated by the state,” he said. “These projects also create thousands of jobs. At a time when we should be using public dollars to stimulate the economy, why would Vermont hamper VHCB’s affordable housing and conservation program that is critical to our Vermont economy?”
Sassarossi reported on the real-world consequences of the proposed cuts, which would stop the reconstruction of the Ellis Block in downtown Springfield. The cuts would also prevent senior housing construction in Troy, Newark and South Burlington. They would stop VHCB from acquiring and renovating mobile home parks in East Barre and Shelburne. And, they would prevent the rehabilitation of housing in Rutland, Burlington and Hardwick.
Housing and conservation advocates were joined by Dori Oatley, a single mother who benefited from affordable housing; Chris Wagner, a dairy farmer who benefited from farmland conservation; and India Farmer, who has a fruit farm in West Pawlet and is co-founder of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link.
In response to the wholesale elimination of all conservation funding, conservation organizations and members of VHCC announced a statewide campaign for conservation, called “Conservation Can’t Wait.”
“Our protected working lands and our natural areas are the foundation of both Vermont’s economy and environment,” said Emily Boedecker of The Nature Conservancy. “Right now, more than ever, Vermont cannot afford to let up in protecting our most valuable public assets—our farms and forests.”
The campaign is raising awareness on the economic stimulus provided by investment in conservation. Farm and farm-related sectors are responsible for 17 percent of Vermont’s gross state product. The USDA reports that Vermont agriculture generates 11 percent of jobs in the state; these jobs account for nearly $60 million in the local economy. Many farmers use the proceeds from the sale of development rights on their property to expand their operation, build new barns, or transfer the farm to the next generation. When farmers use this money to build new facilities, local contractors are usually employed.
“Right now, Vermont has the opportunity to protect 40 high quality farms and thousands of acres of forestland,” said Elise Annes of the Vermont Land Trust. “Protecting family farms and forests means producing local food, creating jobs, and pumping cash into our local economies. Protecting our farms and forests is key to our energy future, water quality, public health, food security and quality of life.”
“Without question, Vermont’s working landscape drives economic development,” said Mary Powell, President and CEO of Green Mountain Power and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Vermont Land Trust. “Conservation of farm and forestland supports our agricultural, forestry, travel, tourism, recreation and higher education industries. Indeed it is our Vermont brand and we must do what we can to protect it.”
Furthermore, virtually every state dollar spent on farm protection is matched by federal Farm and Ranchland Protection funds. Last year VHCB investments brought more than $3 million in federal matching dollars to Vermont landowners and our economy.
Those interested in learning more about the campaign should visit www.vlt.org.
In 2001, the legislature required that 50 percent of the property transfer tax be directed to the housing and conservation fund, effectively linking the biggest driver of costs, the price of real estate, to the funds available for projects that benefit Vermont’s communities. Since 2002 the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund has not been funded at the 50 percent level, and the cumulative loss to conservation and affordable housing is now in excess of $30 million. The Governor’s proposed 70 percent reduction is a huge hit to a program that is already being pushed to the limit.
For more information please contact:
Elise Annes, Vice President for Community Relations, the Vermont Land Trust and VHCC Co-chair, (802) 223-5234;
Kenn Sassorossi, Vice President, Housing Vermont and VHCC Co-Chair (802) 355-8009
Emily Boedecker, Director of Marketing and Philanthropy, The Nature Conservancy and VHCC Co-chair (802) 229-4425