Meet Ashley, Who Sees Selling Affordable Homes As Her Cause

Ashley Andreas is young and idealistic, so she sells houses in the Upper Valley for a living. I bet she's good at it too. 

"We’re not a high-end contractor," she said of her employer. "But we build the most durable, comfortable and energy-efficient homes that you can find in the country. And it’s all in the framework of affordability.

Andreas works for Vermod, a company founded by Hartford developer Steve Davis and located in Wilder. Her job involves helping people of modest means move out of rentals or mobile homes into new Vermod houses, which are built, among other things, to produce as much electricity as they consume.

"It’s kind of like a net-zero home for average people," she said.

The secret ingredient is housing loans and subsidies available to people whose income is a little above their county's median income, or lower. If you qualify, the result can be a Vermod home with, say, two bedrooms and a bath for a mortgage of $1,200 to $1,400 a month, and potentially less. That's comparable to renting a two-bedroom apartment.

It beats taking out a $20,000 personal loan to put a new roof on your aging mobile home -- which is the sort of circumstance her customers describe. Some are young working families, others retirees on a fixed income; what they have in common is a lack of good options.

"I meet a lot of people who don’t know what they’re going to do in the next two years," she said. "They don’t have housing security. ... It’s been very eye-opening, heart-breaking -- and exciting."

Andreas moved to the Upper Valley at 19, drawn to the area by friends she met in a Pennsylvania boarding school. Burlington was a magnet for other young people, but she resisted its pull. That was six years ago.

"I like that it’s very community-oriented here," she said, "and it’s not like so big you can’t know a lot of people and be really involved if you choose to be." It's easy to get into local politics. "Scenically and environmentally, it’s an amazing place."

Housing hasn't been an easy proposition for her either. Four years ago, she and her partner had a baby. Then they split. That left Andreas, a single mom attending college, living in a subsidized apartment -- but only after she spent months on the waiting list. And there were open units! Paperwork moves slowly.

Soon she and her current partner will move into a Vermod home that Davis is renting out. He likes advancing the concept of renting to buy.

Does that mean ownership is in her future? Perhaps -- but not there.

"I personally want to design my own Vermod," she said.
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