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How can we best increase the number of affordable rentals in Brattleboro?


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Comments | 18

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subsidies

Not quire subsidies, but the Town offers homeowners some low-cost loans and renovation assistance to turn extra space into apartments.

 
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My understanding of these

My understanding of these programs is that the apartments that people make in their homes have to be accessible for disabled tenants. I don't believe that these types of apartments are available
for anyone looking for an apartment. This is great for someone with disabilities but doesn't really help that much with the overall shortage of affordable rentals.

 
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That's not correct

There's no requirement to make the unit(s) handicapped accessible. There are requirements to not charge too much rent, but that's a good thing. :-)
See my comment below this one.

 
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My error. The programs you

My error. The programs you are linking may not require accessible apartments but there is a town ( or maybe state) program that provides money to help homeowners add apartments for disabled tenants.
In regards to the programs you mention- who determines what the rents should be?
Obviously most property owners who have rentals think that $850 for a one bedroom apartment is reasonable.
That's getting close to rental costs in Boston and that's pretty discouraging.
It used to be that people would rent apartments at a price that would cover their mortgage payment and be satisfied.
Now, it seems that landlords want to be able to make
a significant profit from their rentals. Which accounts for the severe
lack of fairly priced units.

 
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Profit? Well, that's how it works...

I'm sure the Grants Manager would answer your questions on the rent requirements, and since they are based upon federal poverty level percentages they would change each year.
I gotta say though, anyone who thinks Brattleboro's rents are approaching Boston's has not been to Boston lately. Average one-bedroom rent there is well over $2000 a month!
https://www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-boston-rent-trends/

I'm a landlord of a house in Brattleboro which has two apartments and is shared by a total of 6 tenants, each of whom pay $400-450 per month, which includes all utilities except phone and internet. You are correct that in order to do this I must be "satisfied" with only covering my mortgage payment, utilities and some modest upkeeps. When a major repair comes along, a minor profit quickly turns into a major deficit, but I feel it's important to the town to have affordable housing. If I did not make my actual income from running a different business, I could not afford to own and operate those apartments.

I find that most landlords have a similar philosophy here in Brattleboro (although I know there are exceptions) and I get frustrated when I read hyperbolic statements from residents who are not considering the entire picture when it comes to rental costs in our town. Before throwing our neighbors under the bus with blanket statements of "the rent's too damn high", let's make sure we understand what's forcing them higher each year.

 
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I lived in Boston for 45

I lived in Boston for 45 years before moving to Brattleboro 10 years ago. I have friends who own houses with rental apartments
and they currently charge $1000 per bedroom. Of course some neighborhoods have higher rents - especially those that concentrate on renting to college students who will live with several roommates or having parents that are footing the bill.
In a town where people are up in arms about the number of homeless people on the streets and where families are living in bug
ridden, drug hot spot motels then, yes... I think landlords in general charge too much for their rentals.
Even those people who actually qualify for rental assistance or subsidy are unable to find decent apartments to live in because the rents are so high.
Nobody is suggesting that individual landlords give away their apartments but this town has more than a few who own multiple
properties and charge rents that a person working at minimum wage could never afford.

 
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Two existing programs can help make new apartments

There are two good Brattleboro programs that try to help homeowners upgrade their houses to make new apartments in homes.

One is indeed an actual gift or planning help and cash, up to $5,000:
http://baahvt.org/our-programs/apartments-in-homes/

There's also a low-interest loan program for larger projects, and info can be found here:
http://baahvt.org/our-programs/rental-housing-improvement-program/

For more info on either you can call the Town of Brattleboro’s Grants Manager, Kim Ellison, at 251-8122.

 
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Win - Win

homeowners turning extra space into apartments is a win - win situation!

 
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Exactly!

And I must say, I was recently surprised to learn how under-utilized these two programs are.

 
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Underutilized

There have been a number of Selectboard meetings over the years where they almost beg people to come take advantage of these programs.

Perhaps this is one small area where we could do more... more to promote the program, and more people taking advantage of it - which would lead to more spaces available.

 
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It seems like at least one of

It seems like at least one of these programs is for studio or 1 bedroom sized units. I'm guessing they may end up being pretty small - so while that would work for a person who lived alone it wouldn't help at all with the lack of housing for families. A working family cannot afford to rent a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment in this town. Forget about a single parent who has a child or two. 2 bedroom apartments on Elliot Street are being advertised for $1250.00 a month. Elliot Street! There is no way that Brattleboro is an affordable place to live. When you couple the rents with the lack of reliable public transportation the town is pretty much saying minimum wage families need not apply. I've been looking at apartments in Keene recently and they do a decent job with their lower income rentals and with senior housing. And, they have a large and reliable transportation system along with 2 taxi companies. People leave Brattleboro to go to New Hampshire to shop- I imagine we might see people leaving this town to go to NH for more affordable housing, too.

 
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"they almost beg people to come take advantage of these program"

About a half a year ago. now being empty nesters, I called to inquire about apartments in homes, but received no response.

Awhile later, I saw a committee from the group that offers that program (Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing Corporation) arriving at the Co-op Cafe: so I mentioned my unreturned call, emphasized my possible interest in creating an auxiliary apartment, and expressed my hope that they would get in touch with me. I guess I was an interruption, rather than a valued prospect for that program. Being ignored really felt bizarre because I was previously a board member of the BAAHC for 11 years and had left on friendly terms.

Everyone was polite, but seemed distracted to the point of indifference. It left me feeling like this program is no longer being pursued in a serious manner, so I was left with the impression that further pursuit would just be a waste of my time. My energy is limited and I just cannot afford to spend fruitless time and effort endlessly repeating the same, unreciprocated phone call.

Maybe someone from Apartments in Homes will see this comment, contact me, and we will finally be able to get started.

 
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Perhaps lack of cohesive

Perhaps lack of cohesive management is the reason this program is under utilized.
You would think that they would be happy to talk with any resident looking to take part in the program.

 
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Patchwork rental market

Thanks in good part to a byzantine patchwork rental market, housing as a stabilizing component of basic human needs, twists its way through peaks and valleys of the class system.

It starts with a high demand for rental units that becomes mired in government regulations and mandates, mortgage rules, market speculation affecting market rates, big investors and the wealthy (megalandlords) buying up homes and rental properties that the middleclass cannot afford to do, racially homogeneous communities, and the inability of the middleclass to afford to buy a house.

Wealthy segregation in cities (and towns) where they buy up the best part of cities drives up everybody else’s rent too.

In our town, we saw following the Brooks Hotel fire the immediate displacement of about 70 rather affordable housing units. Big money stepped in, took over that corner and nearly half that side of Main Street, to transform the surrounding areas into higher prices across the board. We’ve seen businesses fail and higher housing, renting costs rise dramatically.

As of last year, rents top the list of rising costs, more so than food, clothing and transportation. Rising medical/pharmaceutical costs are second to rents, but not far behind.

The Pew Charitable Trusts show the hardest hit by the share of income spent on housing for owners versus renters – “Renting a home consumes a bigger share of a typical household budget than paying off a mortgage. Rising rents have hit hardest at the bottom third of the income ladder.”

 
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What's affordable is relative

When I moved here from Manhattan in '95, I left a rent stabilized small 4 room apt. leased at $597/mo. The apt. I took here- 3 smaller rooms with a total of 2 windows, which they tore out to replace in Winter- was shown to me for $375, then when I said I'd take it, was told it was $450 but I could have it for $425/mo. At least it included electricity.

Later, I lived at the Brooks House for 4 years. Nearly $600 a month for 2 rooms with -nothing- included. Not affordable. Not a decent place to live, either.

I've been in actual affordable housing via the BHA for 6 years now. It's nice to buy clothes or have a few dollars left at the end of a month. Things that were impossible after paying rent and bills in Brattleboro for the first 16 years here.

 
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Both BHA and Windham Housing

Both BHA and Windham Housing do a good job of providing affordable, well maimed properties. The waiting lists are long - often several years and if you're fortunate enough to qualify for a rental subsidy it's pretty hard to find a privately owned property that isn't higher than your subsidy amount. Also a shortage of private landlords who want subsidized tenants.
It's just not a good situation for Lowe income families.

 
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In perspective

"The last time a global survey was attempted – by the United Nations in 2005 – an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. As many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing (Habitat, 2015)."

"Chronic hunger affects more than 925 million people in the world. Far from decreasing, the number of hungry people in the world is currently increasing – at the rate of four million a year. Chronic hunger affects more than 925 million people in the world and is, in and of itself, a potentially deadly condition."

"85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet. 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation."

"How can we best increase the number of affordable rentals in Brattleboro?"
The basic needs of this microcosmic town will likely remain on a flatline. Adequate and affordable housing, as discussed in today's view, will likely be the same discussion ten years from now.

 
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Lowering rent will not end shortage

Landlords should lower rents continues to be in first place for this survey. Putting aside the unlikelihood of that happening: Suppose all rent were lowered, how would that alleviate the shortage of affordable rental housing?

Suppose, for example, there are 1,000 apartments, but 1,200 families need rental housing thereby creating a shortage of 200 apartments. Hypothetically, let's imagine that landlords are able and willing to lower the monthly rent for each of those 1,000 apartments to $50 per month (or any low number you care to imagine). That would be wonderful for the 1,000 family who live in these apartments, but the additional 200 families would still lack housing.

 

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