At a recent public forum held in conjunction with the rewrite of Hartford's town plan, Director of Planning and Development Lori Hirshfield used current housing data and demographic trends to predict a scenario in which the region's housing problems could worsen over the next 20 years.
Windsor County already has a housing shortage. The county's vacancy rate is at 1.9 percent. Hartford, a town of about 10,000 people, spread out over 45 square miles added only added 100 new units last year—a fraction of what is needed. Moreover, the housing that exists is unaffordable for many residents.
"In Vermont, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,165. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities—without paying more than 30% of income on housing—a household must earn $3,882 monthly or $46,585 annually. Assuming a 40-hour week, 52 weeks per year, this level on income translates in an hourly wage of $22.40 per hour," states a report drafted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition cited by Hirshfield.
In 2018 about half of the area renters spent more than a third of their income on housing.
"Fifty percent don't make don't make enough money for modest housing," says Hirshfield. "That is a sobering statistic."
Don't expect new jobs with higher pay to solve the problem. Seven out of 10 new jobs created in Vermont over the next decade will have wages lower than the one-bedroom housing wage of $17.84 per hour according to the 2018 Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition report.
Moreover, an aging population— thirty percent of Vermonters will be 65 or older by 2030— is a looming concern. Half of the renters in Windsor County are already struggling to pay for housing. If present trends continue they will age out of the workforce without saving enough for retirement.
Then what happens? What will the situation be like in 2038? Will a significant number of elderly join the ranks of the Upper Valley's homeless?
What do you think? What can be done today to prevent this problem from growing into a crisis?