Town mulls affordable housing trust fund

Ordinance would establish account for low-income housing

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Should the Town of Williston establish a fund to help increase the town’s inventory of affordable housing?

That is the subject of a public hearing set for 7:30 p.m. June 20 at town hall, when the board will consider passing an ordinance to create a “Housing Trust Fund.”

A group of board members, administrators and citizens that met last year as the Housing Trust Fund Task Force recommends the board adopt the ordinance. The task force listed potential funding sources as a penny on the town tax rate, a dedicated portion of the local rooms, meals and/or sales tax, an impact fee on commercial development (“justified by the fact that retail wages are insufficient to afford the average area rent,” the recommendation states), and one-time payments from developers looking for zoning approvals.

The task force envisions an annual operating budget of $100,000 for the fund.

At a selectboard meeting in May, Town Manager Rick McGuire noted that the proposed ordinance does not prescribe a funding source.

“But if we get funds budgeted or donated, this provides a mechanism for how that money will be held and how it will be spent,” he said.

The ordinance identifies a goal of creating and retaining long-term affordable housing for low-income households. It would create a Housing Trust Fund Advisory Board to study housing needs in Williston and develop an annual plan for the fund for selectboard approval. Funds would be dispersed through grants and loans to non-profits, municipalities, housing cooperatives, individuals and corporations.

The ordinance defines low-income households as those earning up to 80 percent of the area’s median income as determined by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency. It defines “very low income” as a households earning up to 50 percent of the median income.

According to HUD, the 2017 median family income in Williston is $82,400.

The task force recommends Housing Trust Fund money benefit only homes that are affordable for families earning 80 percent of the median income, or  $65,900 for a family of four. The task force defines homes that cost less than 30 percent of low-income families’ monthly incomes as affordable.

A three-bedroom home would have to cost less than roughly $1,700 per month — including utilities for renters, and including property taxes and insurance for homeowners — to be considered eligible for trust fund dollars.

A two-bedroom home would need to be about $1,500 per month and a one-bedroom about $1,300.