CARES Act Funding Brings Affordable Housing to Hardwick

photo by Vanessa Fournier | Work continues on the two recently added Zero Energy Modular homes located in Evergreen Manor in Hardwick. The park is owned by Lamoille Housing Partnership.

HARDWICK – Nonprofit affordable housing developer Lamoille Housing Partnership (LHP) recently added two new Zero Energy Modular (ZEM) homes to Hardwick’s Evergreen Manor neighborhood.

Using CARES Act funds, the income-eligible, affordable rental homes are part of statewide pandemic recovery efforts to end homelessness among low-income Vermonters through permanent housing infrastructure.

“These homes are vital to reducing housing affordability barriers experienced by Hardwick’s low- and moderate-income earning residents and contribute to accelerating Hardwick’s pandemic economic recovery efforts,” says LHP Executive Director Jim Lovinsky. LHP has owned the Evergreen Manor mobile home park since 1991.

In 2014, the park underwent significant transformation when LHP added 13 ZEM homes to replace traditional, mobile homes in the park, and reestablish homes on the park’s vacant lots. Each of the rental homes are affordable and income eligible, designated for households that are considered low- or moderate-income (LMI) and earn 30% to 80% of area median income.

Over the past seven years, the subsidized housing project has supported 33 adults and children. The newly added ZEM homes are also 100% electric, feature a high-performance building envelope and use quality, durable building materials and insulation, and come equipped with heat pumps for heating and cooling, Energy Star rated appliances, and rooftop solar panels. Monthly rent for each ZEM home is $775 to $1,150 including heat and electricity. Comparatively, fair market rental rates for traditional mobile home rentals in the area range from $876 to $1,192 per month, excluding heat and electricity and are typically older, significantly less energy efficient, and rely on kerosene and propane, which are more costly forms of energy.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Vermont’s ongoing housing affordability problem and widened the housing gap experienced by LMI individuals and vulnerable populations,” says Lovinsky. “Affordable housing is a proven, replicable solution that measurably ends homelessness, increases financial stability, and improves health outcomes.”

The Lamoille Valley’s housing shortage and disproportionate amount of subsidized housing are contributors to rising rates of housing insecurity and cost burden, homelessness, and displacement, especially among LMI community members. The region’s vacancy rate has steadily held at 2% since 2018, and just 19% of the area’s overall housing stock is subsidized. According to HousingData.org’s most recent community assessment, “37% of all Lamoille County households pay more than 30% of their income for housing … 18% of Lamoille households pay a severely high 50% or more of their income for housing.”

The Lamoille Area Health and Human Services Response Command Center reported as recently as March 1 that at least 130 adults and children in Lamoille Valley communities are enduring homelessness. Vermont expanded the General Assistance program, commonly known as the motel voucher program, in an emergency effort to protect public health and safety. Currently 2,700 Vermonters are temporarily sheltering in motels statewide through the federally financed program while they seek or wait for permanent housing to transition into. However, Vermont’s network of subsidized housing is outpaced by the number of individuals and families in this program now, and housing providers and advocates have expressed concern about where participants will go once the program is scaled back.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently reported that “there are only 49 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 extremely low-income households” in Vermont. This is where the ZEM homes come in. “The new ZEM homes increase local housing stock and provide sustainable solutions to meaningfully address Vermont’s housing shortage, and will provide permanent, safe, affordable homes for individuals and families who are exiting homelessness or precarious housing situations,” explains Lovinsky. “This rapid action affordable housing project immediately provides a lifeline to Vermonters struggling with pandemic caused challenges, breaks the cycle of homelessness, and helps them get back on their feet and on the road to long term housing success.”

“I am proud to have the Evergreen project in my district,” said Joseph “Chip” Troiano, Representative of the Caledonia-2 district. “Affordable, energy efficient, independent housing is what we need to promote in our communities. I was happy to help to secure funding for the last two homes.”

The project received Federal Covid Relief funds through the State of Vermont administered by Vermont Housing and Conservation Board with technical support from Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. The first ZEM home residents are scheduled to move in this June. A virtual celebration is planned. For more information about the project and the virtual celebration, visit lamoillehousing.org and follow @lamoillehousing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.