By Fred Thys/ VTDigger
Woodstock is adopting a novel approach to provide housing for people who work there.
“You can get a job here, but then there’s nowhere to live,” said Trena Tolliver, who has been hired as Woodstock’s housing advisor by the town’s Economic Development Commission to run its pilot housing programs. “We’re trying an approach to incentivize homeowners to be part of a solution.”
Across Vermont, but especially in resort towns, people have a hard time finding housing near their work. Woodstock is trying to address the problem by offering grants to landlords if they build new units for local workers or convert short-term rentals to long-term ones.
The town is offering landlords up to $10,000 to build or refurbish accessory dwelling units.
“If you have a place, maybe an old apartment or a place that needs a bathroom or kitchen to make it rent-friendly, you could be eligible for up to $10,000,” Tolliver said.
To obtain the grant, the landlord would need to rent the space for three years at an affordable rent to someone working in Woodstock, Barnard, Bridgewater, Reading or Hartland.
The other towns are not putting up money, as the program is funded entirely by Woodstock.
“We don’t have enough housing that people who earn a local salary can afford to rent or buy,” said Jill Davies, a member of the Woodstock Economic Development Commission working group on housing. “We want everybody to be able to live in the community. We want our teachers, our retail assistants, hospitality industry people, our writers, everybody.”
Other communities, including Montpelier, have used state funds to incentivize the creation of new accessory dwelling units. The Legislature this year added another $20 million to encourage people to build more of the units.
Woodstock, however, is using its own funds for its program. The town is also offering subsidies to landlords who convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals. Landlords can get $3,000 if they sign a one-year lease and $7,000 if they sign a two-year lease, Tolliver said.
“We have a lot of second-home owners,” she said.
Davies said the program to convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals was inspired by a similar program in Big Sky, Montana, that is itself inspired by a program in Vail, Colorado. A similar program exists in Truckee, California.
In Woodstock, landlords must charge no more than $1,000 a month for a studio, $1,500 for a one-bedroom or $2,500 for a multi-bedroom unit not including utilities.
The town’s Economic Development Commission has approved one application so far, Tolliver said, to a landlord building a garage with an apartment above.
The funds come from the town’s 1% optional sales tax on rooms, meals and alcohol. The town has appropriated $30,000 for the program to convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals and $32,000 to build more accessory dwelling units, Tolliver said.
Those amounts could mean that as few as four short-term rentals are converted to long-term rentals and as few as three accessory dwelling units are built, but Tolliver and Davies point out that the Woodstock program is a pilot program.
Tolliver said an attorney has reviewed the programs to make sure they comply with the state’s fair housing laws. Qualified tenants would include people who are looking for work and people who are disabled and have lived in the area for the last 12 months, she said, adding that she has not heard any concerns raised that the program could discriminate against retired seniors who may need housing.
“In Woodstock, many seniors still work,” said Davies.
Other communities in Vermont have also explored such incentives.
Communities in the Mad River Valley are part of a program subsidizing the construction of additional dwelling units for people who work there, offering $10,000 to people building or refurbishing accessory dwelling units provided they are offered at affordable rent for five years.
The funds came from churches and individuals as well as the Mad River Valley Community Fund.
But the program has run up against increasing costs of construction materials and a shortage of construction workers, said Michelle Leibowitz, the former executive director of the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition. “It has been years” since the program was started, Leibowitz said, but thus far, three accessory dwelling units have been funded, she said, and two more are in the pipeline.
“It hasn’t been the overwhelming success that many of us would like,” Leibowitz said.
She’s consulting with Woodstock to develop its program to make housing affordable to people who work there.
As she spoke to VTDigger, she was standing in the abandoned house she bought in Fayston, where she had plans to take walls down to the studs beginning the next day.
“This is the only thing in the valley I could find to buy,” she said. “It says something about the housing problem.”