New report reveals bleak housing market for Montpelier renters, buyers

Local News

Vermont’s capital city might have the state’s tightest housing market, and the Montpelier City Council is taking notice.

The Montpelier Housing Task Force presented its annual report Wednesday night. It paints a grim picture of an increasingly unaffordable market for anyone who isn’t wealthy.

“We need market-rate housing,” task force chair Polly Nichol said. “We need subsidized housing. We need starter homes. We need housing for seniors who don’t necessarily qualify for subsidized housing.”

There are almost no rental vacancies in Montpelier, and the average market rent is $1,387 per month. The median price for a single-family home last year was $296,500; half of the homes that sold in the city went for more than that amount, and half went for less. Homes generally sell within a few days, often to a cash buyer after a bidding war.

“You’re making $78,000 a year — you can afford a $225,000 house,” task force member Kevin Casey said. “There are no $225,000 houses available, because the moment they hit the market, they’re now $275,000 after being bid up.”

The task force has a long list of recommendations. It suggests that Montpelier support its housing trust fund to the tune of $150,000 annually. It also wants the city to explore the idea of a land value tax that charges owners of long-term vacant properties more than owners of occupied real estate.

“I think there are multiple reasons to pursue land value tax or land-based taxes, and in my mind, this is adding one more reason to explore that,” Mayor Anne Watson said.

A recommendation for the city to buy land with the express purpose of making it available for housing development also drew support.

“You might want to employ the services of a professional real estate developer to do some negotiation. It might involve creating a land bank,” Nichol said.

The council members and task force members brought up multiple possible next steps. City Manager Bill Fraser mentioned a desire for the recommendations to be sorted into two categories — steps the city has, and does not have, the legal authority to take on its own.

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