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Where are teachers, volunteer firefighters and children going to live?

04/24/2008

By Stan Walker

In 2004, Nancy Zorn, executive director of the Green Mountain United Way, wondered how she could best serve her constituency with their growing demands for Green Mountain United Way's services. Nancy determined that if the economic vitality of Central Vermont could be increased that this could reduce the need for those services. Not having the expertise in this area nor it being the focus of Green Mountain United Way, she solicited the assistance of other organizations in Central Vermont and the Central Vermont Economic Collaborative was born.

The Central Vermont Economic Collaborative participant organizations are the Green Mountain United Way, Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Central Vermont Community Action Council, Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation and the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission.

A daylong workshop was held in October 2005 with over 70 participants representing a wide array of stakeholders to identify economic challenges for Central Vermont. The resulting Economic Challenges Summary identified six major areas with appropriate goals for each. The areas are Transportation, Workforce Education and Training, Communications, Municipal Infrastructure, Cost of Doing Business, and Housing. In subsequent meetings it was determined that the need for housing in Central Vermont was the greatest deterrent to economic growth for the area.

"Vermont is facing a serious housing shortage, in large part because we are not building enough new housing to meet the growing demand. The problem is made worse because the shortage is driving up rents and home prices. As a result, Vermont is actually one of the most expensive states in the nation when it comes to paying for housing." (The Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign, www.housingawareness.org )

The housing shortage is a question of supply and demand. While new housing in any price range contributes to the required housing units needed for our area, we are not on pace to meet current demand let alone future growth rates.

As our population ages, we need to begin focusing on workforce housing. "We need people of all income levels and in all levels of interest," said chamber president Bill Cody. "The cost and scarcity of housing is everyone's problem." Cody continues, "The price of housing has increased far more rapidly than residents can afford, and young families are among the hardest hit."

Nancy Zorn pointed out the cost of housing as a critical economic concern: "Young people are leaving for places they can afford to buy a home." The housing shortage meanwhile is making it difficult for businesses to attract qualified workers because the employees cannot purchase homes with the wages Vermont businesses can afford to pay.

The Central Vermont Economic Collaborative encourages everyone to attend the Community Workshop - Create Affordable Housing in Your Community hosted by Central Vermont Community Land Trust on Thursday, May 1, at 5:30 p.m. This workshop is for the communities of Warren, Fayston, Moretown, Duxbury, Waterbury, Waitsfield and Middlesex.

Refreshments will be provided. Child care and transportation provided upon request. This is a great chance to share your ideas and to hear what other communities' concerns and solutions are. Let your voice be heard.

Delegates from this meeting will be elected to attend a Community Summit on May 17 at National Life in Montpelier. Registration can be done online for this workshop at www.CVCLT.org or by calling 802-476-4493, ext 200.

Walker lives in Duxbury.
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