Guest Column10/30/08

Oct. 30, 2008

Reconsider affordable housing

By Debbie Ingram

As evidenced by the article in the Oct. 16 Williston Observer (“Neighbors disappointed by subdivision’s progress”) and my own experience as a member of the Williston Planning Commission, there is a disturbing lack of awareness by many Williston residents of the crucial need for and ultimate benefit of building affordable housing in our town.

I was dismayed to read that some, referring to plans for a new affordable residential development off North Williston Road, expressed concern that “these people” — those who would move into the affordable housing — would “negatively affect” the existing neighborhood on Lefebvre Lane. These comments unfortunately belong to the entrenched, obstructionist thinking usually referred to as “Not in My Back Yard,” or NIMBY.

As executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action, a faith-based community organizing project made up of 11 congregations in Chittenden and Washington Counties that advocates for increasing affordable housing, among other issues, I would ask all Williston residents to both consider the facts and understand the human stories behind the facts before making judgments about building affordable housing near our own homes.

The facts are overwhelming: The median price of a home in Williston is currently $320,000 ( To afford that, a household would need an annual income of about $105,000 and $22,000 for closing costs — yet the actual median income for a family of four is $70,100.

Obviously the median home price is far out of the reach of more than half of wage earners — and this includes persons who contribute valuable services to our community, like our schoolteachers, police officers, firefighters and those employed at our retail establishments in Taft Corners. These individuals and their families do not have a hope of living in the community where they work unless we make a concerted effort to encourage the development of housing that costs less than market rates.

Those who would live in such housing are not deadbeats, drug addicts, or criminals — the stereotypes of residents of the housing projects of the ’60s and ’70s. They are hard-working Vermonters who deserve the opportunity to be a real part of the communities that benefit from their labor.

To hear the stories of those who would be affected, I encourage skeptics to ask their child’s schoolteacher, or one of our town employees, or the check-out person at the grocery store, where they live. If these folks reveal they cannot afford to live in Williston, I hope their answer will bring an added human dimension to a very real problem that our Development Review Board, Planning Commission and Selectboard, as well as some developers and landowners, are seeking to address when they encourage the development of affordable housing. We need the support of all Williston residents, not their reluctance and criticism.

Williston resident and Planning Commission member Debbie Ingram is the executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action, a faith-based community organizing project made up of 11 congregations in Chittenden and Washington counties. Vermont Interfaith Action represents 3,000 Vermonters.