By Councilor Jim Duncan
I serve as the City Council Liaison to the Housing Commission, which is charged with helping Council and staff "ensure a mix of quality housing that maintains and enhances Winooski’s unique sense of place and supports the needs of the entire community".
The Housing Commission met on February 22nd, where members discussed the Historic Resources Inventory presentation given to City Council on 2/16/21. Based on concerns in the community that new development could replace historic buildings in our Gateway Districts (Main St., East/West Allen St., & Malletts Bay Ave.) the City has engaged in an inventory of historic resources along these streets. Options to protect these buildings from redevelopment could range in scope and intensity, and the Commission provided input on what values should be considered when it comes to meeting Winooski’s housing goals. Much of the discussion focused on what types of constraints can be put on owners without making it too costly or prohibitive to renovate the buildings to maintain quality or encouraging demolition by neglect. Commission members acknowledged that doing nothing will lead to the loss of these historic buildings, and stressed the need to balance impacts on affordability and quality of life for renters and owners with preservation.
During the meeting, the Housing Commission also adjusted elements of the Housing Trust Fund, which will be relaunched in the coming months. The Housing Trust Fund has been in development for the past few years – the City’s MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Opportunities Credit Union is nearing completion. The Fund will include a construction assistance option, a home improvement option, and a down payment assistance option. The Commission made two changes to the criteria for eligibility for down payment assistance. The first was to increase the allowable maximum liquid assets someone can have from $10,000 to $30,000, which is more in line with other housing support programs. The second change was to remove the limitation on mortgage payments as a proportion of income. The fund had been designed originally to limit mortgage payments to 30%. The motivation for this was to avoid putting recipients into a situation where they would be cost-burdened. The Commission recommends removing this provision because this limitation could prevent recipients from moving out of a rental (where they might be severely cost-burdened and building no equity) and into an ownership situation (where they are less cost-burdened and building equity). With Opportunities Credit Union as the lender, the Commission felt secure that they will make sure applicants can afford the mortgage based on their particular circumstances. Doing so aligns with Opportunities’ mission to support sustainable and non-predatory lending. The latest draft policy guidelines for the Housing Trust Fund can be found here.
The Commission planned to continue its discussion regarding incentives to encourage the construction of larger housing units (2+ bedrooms) but did not have time. City Staff and Council will provide an update on timeline considerations at the next meeting to coordinate this work with work being done by the Planning Commission.
The Housing Commission meets on the 4th Monday each month and meetings are open to the public. The next meeting will take place on March 22nd at 6 PM. To learn more about the Housing Commission and how to get involved, please visit https://www.winooskivt.gov/housing.
Please get in touch if you have any input or questions on the work of the Commission.
– Jim Duncan, email@example.com