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Report Details Need for Affordable Housing in the County

A recent housing needs assessment presented a detailed report on the current housing situation in Windham County, along with comparisons to other regional centers across the state. The report, which focused on three Windham County towns—Brattleboro, Putney and Wilmington—presented a startling view of the local housing market and economies, marked by rising home prices and a growing divide between wealthier and poorer residents.

In the Brattleboro housing market, significant changes in the past three years included a dramatic increase in the median cost of homeownership, increased purchase of housing by wealthier non-residents and new residents relocating from higher-cost areas, and significant private investment in small-scale rental properties. The report—authored by Development Cycles of Amherst, Massachusetts—also noted significant recent increases in the demand for subsidized housing from low-income renters unable to afford market-rate rents.

The median priced home in Brattleboro increased from $136,700 in 2003 to $190,000 in 2005—a 40% increase in two years. Of the existing homeowners in Brattleboro, the report estimates that 200—250 homeowners live below the poverty line. It is these households that struggle the most with increases in utility costs, property taxes, and adjustable rate mortgage hikes. On the rental side, an estimated 300-350 households live in poverty and do not receive any form of rental subsidy. On the economic side, the report found that the area is experiencing continued job-loss and stagnating wages. Windham County was the only county in Vermont to lose jobs in 2005. And, while the average wage statewide grew by 12% between 2002 and 2005, the average wage in Brattleboro did not change.

In addition, there is an accelerating split between Brattleboro’s wealthier and poorer residents. While residents earning over $75,000 per year represent just 12% of the town’s households, they are the fastest growing segment of the population. At the same time, 58% of all tax returns filed in 2004 were for taxable income of under $30,000.

Although Putney enjoys a higher median income than Brattleboro, the report noted the lack of any subsidized housing for the low-income families and individuals that rent in Putney (Putney does have subsidized elderly housing through Putney Meadows and Putney Cares). According to the report, low-income renter families in Putney live “largely in market rate housing, have no realistic hope to own, and increasingly struggle to pay their rent and other necessities.” Higher income renters in town can currently afford their rent payment, but have limited options for first-time homeownership in the community.

With a relatively large population of young adults—27% compared to 19% countywide—Putney has many young families and would be a prime community for first-time homebuyers. However, home prices in Putney are among the highest in the county.
In analyzing housing and the economy in Wilmington, the report emphasized the town’s difference from both Brattleboro and Putney due to Wilmington’s growth in both population and jobs. However, like Brattleboro, Wilmington is experiencing a growing divide between the town’s wealthier and poorer residents. Competition from out of state homebuyers continues to drive up the price of homes, making first-time homeownership even more difficult for local renters.

Important county-wide trends noted in the report included a growing group of young adults that have chosen to remain in Windham County, but lack sufficient rental options. This lack of rental housing contributes to the exodus of young adults from Vermont.

The Development Cycles report was commissioned by the Windham Housing Trust.

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