Montpelier, VT – Members of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition (VHCC) gathered at the Vermont State House to express their grave concern about Governor Douglas’ proposal to cut more than $5 million from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). Representatives from VHCC said that cutting VHCB’s budget by one-third is a radical shift away from Vermont’s investment in permanently affordable homes, saving forever working farms and forests, increasing public access to natural areas and waters, and revitalizing community spaces.
“A modest increase or level funding in tight fiscal times wouldn’t be surprising, but the 30 percent cut proposed by Governor Douglas is a drastic priority shift that will greatly impact Vermont’s communities,” said Kenn Sassorossi, of Housing Vermont and VHCC Co-Chair.
“VHCB leverages more than $4 for every dollar appropriated by the state. 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?”
“Organizations that make up the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition expect to submit more than 150 projects to the board over the next 18 months,” said Elise Annes, of the Vermont Land Trust and VHCC Co-chair. “These projects will create 1,473 units of permanently affordable housing and will help protect 15,911 acres of a farm, forestland and community. Grant requests are forecasted to be $23,010,800 for housing and $17,628,700 for conservation, which is four times the Governor’s proposed budget.”
Annes added, “These collaborative projects can take years to reach fruition. If consistent and reliable funding is not available from VHCB many projects are at risk. A one year cut of 32 percent will have a long-term impact. Housing and conservation investments directly address Vermont’s critical housing shortage, and at the same time save land that defines our state and supports Vermont’s farm and forest economy.”
Peter James, farmer and co-owner of Monument Farms Dairy of Weybridge, Vermont talked about how conservation made it possible for his third generation dairy farm, processing, and packaging operation, to buy land affordably. “With the help of the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board we were able to buy land for our business,” said James. “There are a number of farmers in Weybridge that have sold their development rights purchased by the Vermont Land Trust (with VHCB funds) and this just fit in real nicely.”
Elisabeth Kulas, Executive Director of the Rutland County Community Land Trust spoke passionately about what is at risk for Rutland: “Our work is about the young, the old, the destitute, your neighbor, your relative and you. In Rutland five of the most dilapidated buildings in three of Rutland’s most troubled neighborhoods are scheduled for new life. Well designed, thoroughly planned, cost efficient projects take time to develop. To cut VHCB funding this year would set a long, defined pipeline off course. The most exciting new development in Rutland in the past 30 years is scheduled to apply for funding from VHCB. The redevelopment of the old Berwick hotel site is in the works. I haven’t seen Rutland this excited in the 14 years I’ve been there. Don’t take this away, Governor Douglas.”
Marty Illick, Executive Director of the Lewis Creek Association of Charlotte described a project her organization is working on that is depending on VHCB funds this summer.
“In Charlotte one of our farms is at risk of development that is both unwanted by the town and the farming family. This farm, carefully stewarded for generations, is important to the local community and state for many reasons. It’s food-producing agricultural soils are in close proximity to the Burlington metro area, its exemplary natural communities and forest make up a portion of one of the largest forest blocks in Chittenden County; and with the restoration of a wetland and channelized stream in the Lewis Creek watershed, phosphorus runoff will be reduced that would otherwise flow to Lake Champlain.
In recognition of already strapped VHCB budgets, the community knew it had to be extremely resourceful when budgeting for this project. With a project value of $1.7 million many partners are needed. The Town and its partners will be asked to support 23 percent of this total funding plan, Clean and Clear has approved a two percent contribution, and the VHCB is targeted for 30 percent of the costs.
Illick added, “And the most important player is the farm family, who have generously committed toa 45 percent reduced sale price. This is powerful leveraging of taxpayer dollars. VHCB funds are an integral and very critical component of this community’s conservation initiative.”
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 is now in excess of $30 million. The Governor’s proposed cut of $5 million is a huge hit to a program that is already being pushed to the limit.
The VHCC requests a modest increase in the 2009 budget comparable to the 2.5 percent for higher education. They believe this will allow VHCB and its nonprofit partners to accomplish more in meeting the state’s critical affordable housing and conservation needs.
For more information please contact:
Elise Annes, Vice President for Community Relations, the Vermont Land Trust and VHCC Co-chair, (802) 223-5234 or (802) 522-9855 ;
Kenn Sassorossi, Vice President, Housing Vermont and VHCC Co-Chair (802) 355-8009, cell/other phone (802) 863-8424
Emily Boedecker, Marketing Director, The Nature Conservancy and VHCC Co-chair (802) 229-4425