On February 22, 2023

What is workforce housing? Who qualifies?

Killington town has plans for a 250-300 unit development, if the TIF bond for a municipal water system passes (Article 5)

By Polly Mikula

In addition to safe drinking water, one of the most popular promises of a municipal water system in Killington is the possibility for a significant workforce housing development.

Last Thursday, Feb. 16, the Killington Select Board unveiled it’s plans for a 250-300-unit workforce housing development on 70 acres at the base of Killington Road. The announcement was made at the end of the KPAA and Killington Resort’s annual Community Update.

The plan maps space for 6-8 multifamily buildings and 16-20 duplex or single family homes with lots of green space in between. Access to the development would be via Nanak Way off Killington Road and Old Route 4.

The terms “workforce housing” and “affordable housing” (although often used interchangeably) are different. Affordable housing typically refers to housing very-low income Vermonters — those earning up to 60% of the area median income (AMI), or $36,000 per year or less.

Workforce housing thresholds are greater — up to 120% AMI, according to Mary Cohen, executive director at the Housing Trust of Rutland County— that means a single person with  an annual income of up to $72,000 could qualify for workforce housing.

Area median income is assessed annually and is applied county wide. In Rutland County, the current area median income is about $60,000 (100% AMI); which equates to $28.85/hour for a single person working full time.

“Clearly workforce housing is what’s needed,” Cohen said. “And when you say workforce housing, it’s really like 60% of median income up to 120% of median income. That’s where people are working, but there’s not adequate housing that they can afford. So that’s the problem we’re trying to solve now.”

While it is too early to know exactly what the qualifications would be for the Killington development, it is safe to say that those at or below average income for their family size would be eligible to apply.

“The goal is for those people working here to be able to live in town,” said Jim Haff, member of the Killington Select Board. “If Article 5, the TIF bond, passes on Town Meeting Day we can move forward with the purchase of this land and begin conversations with a housing trust and potential developers to make this a reality… but nothing like this can happen without municipal water, so the vote passing is the first crucial step.”

Timeline

If Article 5 passes on Town Meeting Day, March 7, then the town will finalize the purchase of the 70 acres of land for $700,000.

The municipal water system will begin to be constructed this spring/summer and will take about two years for the first phase to be completed (the portion paid for with Tax Increment Financing that brings water from Route 4 to the village.) The next phase(s) that bring water all the way down the road and to the proposed workforce housing site could take another year or two.

Simultaneously, starting this spring, the town will begin pre-development work, i.e. required studies and permits including Act 250, environmental testing and historic preservation.

The planned completion for the development and the municipal water system are thus projected to be on about the same timeline — the earliest it could be completed would be 3-4 year.

What’s a housing trust? How does it guarantee affordability?

“The Housing Trust of Rutland County has been around for about 30 years and we do what’s defined as affordable housing, meaning the bulk of the residents that we serve are at 60% of median income and below,” explained Cohen.

Housing Trust of Rutland County’s current portfolio has “almost 400 units that we have developed and manage,” Cohen added.

All Housing Trust units are rented with minimum one- year leases.

“We get funded from Vermont Housing Conservation Board (VHCB) as well as the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) through their Vermont Community Development Program,” Cohen explained. “And when they give us funds to build these things, we promise to them that we will make sure that people are income-qualified.”

Developments can have a mix of affordability ranges based on assessed needs of the community they’re intended to serve. “Once we decide on what that mix is, then VHCB holds us to it,” Cohen explained.

“There’s a lot I don’t know about the Killington market and what the town of Killington wants. These conversations are extremely early,” she added.

There are also many factors that could push the timeline out, she said: “My funding sources through the state through VHCB are not unlimited, unfortunately. And there are people developing affordable housing and workforce housing all across the state. Sometimes we kind of have to get in line,” she explained.

In the past, most funding for housing has focused on the lowest income Vermonters to protect against increased homelessness, and help the disabled and elderly, Cohen added. “But if you take a look at the landscape, workforce housing is a dire need. The governor’s talking about it and VHFA (Vermont Housing Finance Agency) is trying to figure out a good product to help developers create housing for this ‘missing middle’ — that’s what they’re calling it.

“So, these projects focused on workforce housing are a little bit different,” she added. “There’s so many unknowns at the moment. But it will certainly be interesting conversations as we move forward.”

Next steps

Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. the Select Board will be doing a more detailed presentation on the preliminary workforce housing plans. The meeting is open to the public in person at the Public Safety Building or via Zoom (link at: killingtontown.com/calendar).

On a positive vote March 7, the town of Killington will conduct needs-based assessments to ensure it’s development plans meet the true needs of its workforce and will proceed accordingly with whatever route it determines will best suit those goals, Haff said.

“Who knows, maybe we only need 75 units at this time,” Haff added. “This might be a phased project. This is a plan to meet the town’s needs for the future. We’re in the early stages, obviously, but everyone knows we need housing that our working residents can afford. We don’t want them to have to live outside of town; we want them to be able to make a life here with their families.”

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