Woolson Block

The Woolson Block, 31-41 Main St. in Springfield, Vermont, has been vacant since 2016.

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — The nationwide problem of a lack of affordable rental units extends to Springfield, Vermont. This is the case even though rent prices are lower than the statewide average in Springfield, said Bill Morlock, director of the Springfield Housing Authority.

A two-bedroom apartment in Springfield typically costs between $900 and $1,000 per month, according to Morlock.

In comparison, rent for a two-bedroom rental in Springfield is over $100 less than the state average of $1,184 per month and slightly less than the $1,024 average in Sullivan County, New Hampshire.

However, average wages and income in Windsor County are below the state averages as well. The median household income for renters in Windsor County is approximately $34,344, compared to a median income in Vermont of about $36,000, and the median hourly wage of renters in the county is $11.83, as opposed to $13.40 for the state.

Whether in Springfield or elsewhere in Vermont, the underlying problem is the same: the cost of living is rising more quickly than worker incomes.

“Thirty years ago rents were affordable, but rents have gone up,” Morlock said. “For someone [working] in the service industry, the cost of housing is difficult.”

According to a report published this month by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a person making an hourly wage of $11 to $12 an hour would need to work about 53 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the Springfield area and 64 hours to afford a two-bedroom. A person making the state minimum wage of $10.73 would need to work 58 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom unit and 71 hours for a two-bedroom.

Morlock estimates that 25% of Springfield residents are renters.

Lower incomes in the region factor heavily into the lower rent prices, Morlock said. However, demand can also drive market prices.

“Burlington is a really hot housing market right now, so there are fewer vacancies,” Morlock said, adding that Burlington’s high population drives demand for rental units off-campus.

About 4% or 5% of Springfield’s total rental units are currently vacant, Morlock said.

Woolson Block project update

Morlock said that the Woolson Block project — to convert a once-dilapidated building into affordable apartments with commercial space at ground level — has been slowed during the funding stage.

PNC Bank has bought the tax credits to finance the project, according to Morlock. Working with a new bank, however, has translated into considerable paperwork and delayed the process.

Morlock said that they plan to close on the financial agreement next week, so the community should expect to see contractors begin work on the building soon.

“The project is going to happen but it’s taking longer than anticipated,” Morlock said.

Morlock said that Woolson Block will have four commercial spaces for rent at street level and 15 rental apartments on the second and third floors.

Eight of those 15 units will be Section 8 housing, for renters with an income of 50% or less than the federal median.

The remaining units will be priced between $950 to $1,000 per month but will include a number of amenities such as 24-hour maintenance and a building security system.

The ground floor will also have five units for at-risk youth transitioning into independence, Morlock said. This program provides wrap-around social services to homeless youth while they pursue their high school diploma or other education degree or transition into the workforce.

“It’s giving young adults a chance by providing them with a stable housing component,” Morlock said.

Coalition partners behind the youth transition program include Easter Seals, Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, the Springfield School District and Windsor County Youth Services.

Addressing housing needs

“We are the biggest provider of affordable housing in the community,” Morlock said. “All of our clients have an income of 30% of the median and we have renters in 300 units in town.”

While part of the solution is bringing in more jobs and companies that pay more, Morlock said that for the clients of his departments, there needs to be more state and federal support for social services.

“We serve people who are dealing with a lot of issues, from mental health, substance abuse to generational poverty,” Morlock said. “Our people in the social services do a very good job but their caseloads are bigger than they can handle. We need more support for social service workers and more funds.

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