Jump into Climate Action In Hartford!

In December 2019 the Town of Hartford and the Hartford School District adopted the historic Joint Resolution Declaring a Climate Emergency, setting in motion an urgently needed positive first step to addressing climate change at the local level. Hartford’s Climate Advisory Committee (CAC) was formed to put the Resolution into action. Now, the time has come to once again engage the entire community in shaping the future of Hartford for the betterment of all residents.

Volunteers are needed to help the Town of Hartford create a Climate Action Plan. Working with paleBLUEdot, a climate action-planning consultancy, we must gather together to build a plan that ensures that Hartford thrives even as it works to mitigate the impacts of climate change on all and to adapt to the changing climate.

Creative solutions and a wide array of perspectives are essential to our success. Hartford residents, as well as residents of Lebanon, Hanover, Norwich and the surrounding area are all welcome. 

Representatives from local government, public agencies, local colleges/universities, the business community, environmental groups, social equity groups, and the general community are needed.

Eight general working groups are envisioned; individuals with experience or interest in any of these areas are encouraged to identify one or more areas of interest as part of their contribution to the planning team.

✔ transportation and land use

✔ waste management

✔ local food and agriculture

✔ energy and the built environment

✔ health and safety

✔ water, wastewater management, flood control

✔ greenspaces

✔ economic development and the climate economy

 

The Commitment:

Climate Action Team volunteers will participate in four workshops over the course of several months to explore, review, prioritize, and refine elements of the Climate Action Plan. The expected time commitment is in the range of 20-30 hours.

Interested? Contact Hartford’s Climate Advisory Committee to sign up for the Climate Action Team.

Hartford’s Climate Advisory Committee

Erik Krauss (ekrauss@bluevertex.com)

Ana Mejia (ana@vitalcommunities.org)

Jack Spicer (jacktspicer@gmail.com)

Special Sessions for VT & NH Legislators

Vital Communities is hosting four virtual meetings for legislators in the Upper Valley region, from both New Hampshire and Vermont, connecting them with key voices and resource people on critical issues.

Home Availability in Our Region
Wed, Nov 18 & Tues, Dec 1, 9 – 10 am
Via Zoom; email Mike Kiess (mike@vitalcommunities.org) to RSVP and receive link.

Upper Valley legislators are invited to attend either of these discussions about opportunities to meet our collective housing needs, with members of Vital Communities’ Corporate Council. The Council is a volunteer group of this region’s largest and best-known institutions, businesses, and nonprofits that collectively employ more than 16,000 people and reach well over half the households in the region. Council members are deeply committed to working across boundaries to meet shared challenges.

Each session includes:

  • Update on housing-related legislative actions and opportunities in Montpelier and Concord (brief presentations);
  • Update on Upper Valley actions and opportunities, including new homes data from 2019 and in pipeline (brief presentations);
  • Identification of collaboration opportunities (breakout group discussion followed by report to the large group).

 

Buy Local to Feed Locals: Upper Valley Everyone Eats
Tues, Nov 24 , 1-2 pm

Register here for the Zoom event.

Join us  at a virtual panel and discussion about Upper Valley Everyone Eats, our local hub of the statewide coronavirus relief program Vermont Everyone Eats. We’ll hear directly from participating restaurants, meal sites, farms, and project coordinators, as they share their experiences with Upper Valley Everyone Eats, and discuss its impacts. We’ll save plenty of time for questions, too.

Vermont Everyone Eats pays hard hit Vermont restaurants $10/meal to prepare free, nutritious meals for Vermonters in need. Upper Valley Everyone Eats will provide ~35,000 meals to patrons across 17 meal sites between September 8 and December 18. We also may continue to the end of December, and we may be able to freeze meals for later distribution.

Vermont Everyone Eats is funded by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund and made possible through a grant provided by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA).

Our Vermont legislators were a part of making this program possible, so thank you! We particularly invite you to attend, to gain a clearer picture of UVEE’s impacts. However, we welcome all officials to attend to hear about the innovative program. We are also inviting members of the Upper Valley Hunger Council, and Upper Valley Strong, and interested members of the public.

 

From the State House to the Farm House
Wednesday, December 16, 10 am to noon
Via Zoom.  RSVP (required) here  

Farmers and legislators are invited to this third annual event, hosted by farms across Vermont and focusing on citizen advocacy at the intersection of the working lands, community members, and policymakers. This virtual event is about building relationships among farmers/farmworkers and the (recently!) elected legislators who represent them, through dialogue about how policy can support the transition to a resilient and equitable agriculture that benefits all of our people, communities, and landscapes. In the midst of a year where so much has changed on farms and within our greater food web, and so many structural inequities have been exacerbated, there is much to discuss.  We look forward to this conversation.

The event will include regional breakouts with dialogue between farmers/farmworkers and legislators. Luna Bleu Farm will “host” the Windsor County session and Orange County will be “hosted” by Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center.

Details here.

Housing Help in New Hampshire!

Housing Stabilization Services (HSS) include shelters, rental assistance for both eviction prevention and rapid re-housing, security deposit loan program, tenant services, supported housing programs and facilities, outreach/coordinated entry, commodity foods distribution, commodity supplemental food program for seniors, workshops, etc. Our newest initiative is the Housing Relief Program!

NOTE: Deadline for completing applications is Dec 18, 2020.

The Housing Relief Program is designed to assist those with a COVID-related financial challenge (loss of income or increase of expenses due to COVID) and program details include:

  1. Help with past due mortgage, up to $2500, from April 1st– forward and/or
  2. Help with past due and/or current rent or utility assistance from April 1st– forward and/or
  3. Assistance with initial move-in costs such as first month’s rent
  4. The HousingRelief Program does NOT assist directly with car repairs, childcare expenses, property taxes, etc. The State has provided us with additional clarification that any funds paid out must be to help sustain housing (back due mortgage, back due and/or current rent, utilities such as electric bill, phone/internet, water bill, etc.). If it can be demonstrated that there was an increase in some of the expenses, due to COVID, that we cannot pay, the household may find themselves eligible for one of the approved forms of assistance above

If someone needs information about the Housing Relief Program, they can reach out to Jenna Tacy, jtacy@scshelps.org; she can also be reached by phone at 719-4294; as stated above, Lori Hathaway can assist as well; if you are working with someone and you know that it is definitely COVID-related, they can be referred directly to our website at: www.scshelps.org

Other questions? Email Mike Kiess at mike@vitalcommunities.org.

Housing Help in Vermont!

During these difficult times, new financial help programs are available to many Vermonters. The state does not want people to be struggling to pay bills, so please apply, even if you don’t usually get public help. Vermont Legal Aid has more information on these programs on its website: http://vtlawhelp.org.

NOTE: Application deadline for many programs is December 23, 2020. Please pass the word to anyone you can help!

Vermont Legal Aid is also able to help individual tenants and homeowners. Call them at 1-800-889-2047 or go to http://vtlawhelp.org. For the fastest response, leave a message explaining what you need in a sentence or two.

  1. Help with past-due rent

For help with past-due rent, Vermonters should apply for the Rental Housing Stabilization Program through the Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA). Tenants and landlords apply for this program at the same time. There are no income limits. VSHA pays landlords directly to bring the tenant’s rent account current. This program will last until December 30 or until the money runs out. You can get help now, and apply again if you still need help later. Learn more about this help for paying past-due rent on our website or reach us for help.

  1. Moving to a new home

Some people need to move because of life safety problems with their rental unit, the rent is too expensive, they have trouble with the landlord or other tenants, or the unit is too big or too small. If you need to move and have found a new landlord, apply together for the Money to Move program at vsha.org. The program can cover the money needed to move in, such as first and last month’s rent and security deposit. It also may cover rent payments through the end of this year. Learn more about this help on our website or reach us for help.

  1. Emergency housing for people who do not have a home

The Department of Children and Family’s (DCF) Economic Services Division is extending housing supports for homeless households. For more information or to apply, contact the Benefits Service Center at 1-800-479-6151.  Follow this link for the program rules.

If you stay in a shelter or motel, you need to participate in “coordinated entry.” Through coordinated entry, you will be assigned a housing case manager who will help you access subsidies and programs to help you get permanent housing. To learn more about coordinated entry, call 2-1-1. If you worked with your case manager to apply for a subsidy or other program and your application was denied, call Vermont Legal Aid at 1-800-889-2047.

  1. Past-Due Utility Bills

The Department of Public Services (DPS) can help pay past-due utility bills. The bills can be for electric, natural gas, landline telephone service or regulated private water bills (not municipal water). Homes and small businesses are eligible. There are no income limits, and you don’t have to have a disconnect notice. However, your difficulty paying the bill must be linked to COVID. The funding only covers arrearages after March 1, 2020. If you need help to fill out an application online, contact your local community action agency. Learn more on the Department of Public Service website.

  1. Mortgage Assistance Program (and maybe Property Tax Assistance)

This program can pay up to six past-due mortgage payments on your home. It is available to all Vermonters who:

  • are at least 1 month past due on mortgage payments
  • have a COVID-related hardship, and
  • meet the income requirements.

Even people who have mortgages in forbearance are eligible. If you have a mortgage and are behind on property taxes that you pay directly to the town, you may also be eligible for assistance. Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) is taking applications for the Vermont COVID Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program. (You do not need to have a VHFA mortgage to be eligible.) Learn more about the mortgage assistance on our website or reach us for help.

Questions? Email Mike Kiess at mike@vitalcommunities.org.

Downtown vs. Out-of-Town: Community Conversations

Which uses of our land provide the best economic returns to our towns? The answers might surprise you.

Developing big parcels of land on the fringes of town as malls, big-box stores, or suburban tracts? No.

Building up existing downtowns with mixed uses – residential, commercial, social services, and more? Yes. Acre for acre, this type of development raises more property tax revenue and requires less new infrastructure for taxpayers to pay for. In addition, mixed-use downtown development can have positive implications for climate change, public health, historic preservation and community architectural “character,” and social equity.

This broad issue is explored in a series of engaging, accessible, virtual presentations featuring renowned planner Joe Minicozzi of the North Carolina-based firm Urban3, The series began with the session From the Outskirts to DowntownTaxes, Land Use & Land Value Analysis of 15 New Hampshire Communities, on Thursday, October 15, 10 am. Watch the video here. The first 20 minutes are a great introduction to why this information should affect our choices.

Minicozzi is following the statewide session with presentations focused on the communities that were studied, including a session focusing on Lebanon, Claremont, and Hanover, on Thursday, October 29, 11 am.  Register for this free LOCAL event.

Urban3 derived its findings by analyzing the property tax revenues of Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Dover, Exeter, Hanover, Hudson, Keene, Laconia, Lebanon, Nashua, Pelham, Peterborough, Portsmouth, and Rochester. Minicozzi, the principal of Urban3, is an urban planner who utilizes new ways to think about and visualize land use, urban design, and economics.

By using these data to create 3D visualizations, Urban3’s analysis reveals the potential for improving the fiscal health of each of these 15 communities. The visuals show what types of development create the greatest tax return for communities, and create a clear and data-driven understanding of the economics of place. Communities can use these findings as a tool to make public policy adjustments, with the goal of creating long-term financial resiliency.

The Lebanon-Claremont-Hanover conversation will drill down from the statewide picture presented on October 15. Analysis, charts, and observations of data for each of the three towns will be presented. A panel with planning officials from each of the towns and the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission will provide local context and answer questions in a facilitated discussion.

The series aims to give participants another way to look at how we use our land, and the implications for local health, prosperity, climate, and social equity. They should be able to use the information to make choices that enable and protect what they value in their local communities. Although the data was derived from studying particular New Hampshire communities, residents and officials of towns of all sizes can gain valuable insight from this discussion.
Questions to be explored include:
  • What are the financial implications of different land uses, and how can this knowledge help us make and implement good decisions for our homes, businesses, schools, and other needs?
  • Who really pays for infrastructure and its continued maintenance?
  • How can we preserve and replicate the homes and buildings we appreciate most, that give our communities character, and offer the greatest benefits to the public as a whole?

 

 

Upper Valley Housing, 2010-2019: The Numbers Are In

How many and what kind of homes are we creating in our region? Vital Communities and Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Commission partnered with 29 towns to measure the numbers, types, and values of homes created since 2010, with a look ahead at the next few years.

Click these links for the summary of results, and the details by town.

The study will help planners and municipalities size up the kinds of partnerships needed to meet our region’s housing demands, and include more communities and residents in the effort – which encompasses everything from big-dollar multi-unit new development to individual homeowners adding accessory dwelling units.

Some of the chief findings are:

  • The number of new places to live created in 2019 was about the average rate for the last 10 years: 221 units in 2019 compared to an average rate of 248.
  • New places to live over the past 10 years are about evenly split between single-family and multi-family homes.
  • The majority of units added over the past 10 years were assessed at under $300,000.
  • Based on an analysis of building permits issued in some towns, about 6 percent of permits were for replacing or adding an additional dwelling unit to an existing structure.
  • Partnerships of employers, developers, finance, municipalities are making large projects possible.

Contact Mike Kiess Mike@VitalCommunities.org with questions, and learn more at https://vitalcommunities.org/workforce-housing/

The 29 towns that were studied (about three-fourths of Vital Communities’ service area) are:
In New Hampshire:
Charlestown
Claremont
Enfield
Grantham
Hanover
Haverhill
Lebanon
Lempster
Newbury
New London
Newport
Plainfield
Springfield
Sunapee
In Vermont:
Bethel
Bradford
Fairlee
Hartford
Hartland
Newbury
Norwich
Randolph
Rockingham
Royalton
Springfield
Thetford
Weathersfield
West Windsor

Windsor

Newly Increased Rebates for Home Weatherization

Newly Increased Rebates for Home Weatherization

Now’s the best time to think about weatherizing your home as both New Hampshire and Vermont state weatherization programs have announced a temporary increase to weatherization rebates.  NH Saves rebates have increased to 90%, funding up to $8,000 per household, for projects completed before November 15 — compared to previous caps of 50% and $4,000.  Efficiency VT rebates have increased to 75%, up to $5,5000 per household, for projects enrolled by August 31 — compared to 50% and $4,000 previously. In addition, Efficiency VT will make the first six months of payments (up to $900) on Home Energy Loan for anyone who applies before October 31.

Not sure where to start? Here are some useful Vital Communities “cheat sheets” that take you through the process. Note that these documents still quotes old, lower rebate percentages and caps, and that to access some of the links, you will need to paste the URLs into your web browser rather than just clicking on them.

New Hampshire residents: NHSaves Rebate Guide

Vermont residents: Home Performance with Energy Star/Efficiency Vermont

Making Solar Energy Accessible for All

Making Solar Energy Accessible for All

The best-kept secret about solar energy is how affordable it can be. Thanks to changes in the market and technology as well as rebates and other financial assistance, people at any income level can reap free power from the sun that pays back its investment and is kinder to the environment.

Want to know more? On Saturday, July 18, from 10 to 11 am, Sustainable Woodstock and Vital Communities will host an informational meeting on Zoom about creating affordable solar opportunities for all Upper Valley residents, including those with low to moderate incomes. Norwich Solar Technologies, Twin Pines Housing Trust, and Norman Sun LLC will be leading a discussion about how private individuals and companies can collaborate with the nonprofit sector to develop solar energy designed for low- to moderate-income households. 

We will explore how partnerships between the private and public sectors can help income-sensitive Upper Valley residents add solar energy to their homes. We will also explain how these same benefits can apply to nonprofits, municipalities, and other entities without a tax burden! Case studies will highlight how this has been done in Vermont, but the model can work in New Hampshire as well. 

This event is ideal for: non-profit managers, representatives of financial institutions, city/town planners & planning board members, local energy committee members, select board members, town managers, city mayors, regional planning commission staff, regulators, legislators, solar developers, and any resident interested in affordable solar! 

Register for the meeting through Eventbrite, and you’ll receive Zoom instructions by email.

 

New Help for Renters, Landlords, Homeowners

To help landlords and tenants facing pandemic-related financial problems, refer to this resource sheet created by Upper Valley Strong, a coalition made up of over 35 non-profit organizations, agencies and town representatives who come together during times of crisis, such as COVID-19. Further information about promoting safe practices in your housing community can be found on the Upper Valley Strong website.

New Hampshire:

Funding from the CARES Act will be available to NH residents for rental assistance.  The five Community Action Program (CAP) agencies in NH will be administering the funds.  There are 2 types of assistance:

  • A one-time grant (up to $2,500) for past due rent (from April 2020) or other housing-related expenses as a result of lost household revenue or increased household expenses (must be related to COVID-19).  This grant program is targeted to those households who will be able to maintain their housing without assistance after the one-time assistance payment.
  • Short-term rental assistance for those who are looking to maintain or secure permanent housing (includes first month’s rent and ongoing short-term rental assistance).

What You Should Know:

  • Both the one-time grants and the short-term rental assistance will be coupled with regional case management services to help connect households to appropriate services as defined by the household and the agency.
  • There are no income guidelines, but the loss of income or additional expense must be COVID-related.
  • An Eviction Notice is not required, but a Demand for Rent or ledger is necessary.
  • You do not need to have met with your city/town welfare first in order to get access to funding.
  • Program payments will be made directly to the landlord or provider.
  • The program will end by December 30, 2020.

How to Apply:

  • Online at the TCCAP interest form website.
  • Applications will be online, but paper copies can be requested
  • If you need help applying, you can contact:

If the amount of arrears cannot be cured by rental assistance from the CARES Act, tenants can apply for additional rental assistance from City/Town Welfare.

Vermont:

Rental Housing Stabilization Fund:

 

Mortgage Assistance Program:

  • The VT Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) for HOMEOWNERS for mortgage assistance – applications will open July 13 through August 31 and will pay up to 3 mortgage payments per household for VT primary homeowners who’ve had closings before March 1 and who are income-eligible: https://www.vhfa.org/map

Re-Housing Recovery Fund:

Emergency housing rehabilitation grants and forgivable loans to make up to 250 units of housing available to re-house homeless families experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak.

AREA OF NEED:

  • Homeless Families/Substandard Existing Rental
  • Housing Stock Grant and forgivable loans disbursed by housing service provider(s) selected by RFP process with oversight authority through Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development.

How to Apply:

For up more information about how to apply for funds through the state of Vermont, please visit the Vermont Economic Recovery and Relief Package Website.

Additional Resource in VT:

Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA): SEVCA provides a wide variety of services to individuals and families in Windham and Windsor Counties, including utility and housing assistance; help accessing State and local support networks like 3SquaresVT, supplemental fuel assistance, medical insurance, unemployment benefits, etc.; financial literacy courses; small business development; tax assistance; weatherization services; Head Start; advocacy, information, and referrals; and thrift stores. SEVCA is also available to help people affected by COVID-19 find, explore, and access options for recovery and stabilization. Visit the SEVCA Website for more details.

Upper Valley Housing Update

A quick update on Upper Valley housing from our Workforce Housing Coordinator, Mike Kiess:

Support for people experiencing homeless and housing insecurity has been expanded on both sides of the river. In Vermont, the state has provided vouchers for 130 people without housing to stay in hotels. Thanks to the Super 8, South on Five, White River Junction Inn, and Comfort Inn for being partners in this effort. At the same time, organizations like the Upper Valley Haven that help with homelessness and housing insecurity are expanding services and outreach. Another example is LISTEN Community Services, which is providing free meals to those sheltering in White River Junction.  

There is concern moving forward that economic disruption from the pandemic will increase homelessness and housing insecurity. NH and VT advocacy groups are asking Concord and Montpelier to allocate CARES funds to continue expanded shelter and service support. Local organizations, such as Continuum of Care and Upper Valley Strong’s housing committee, are also working towards long term solutions. The goal is to help connect community members with available housing, possibly by working out deals with landlords or providing rent assistance. 

It is still too early to predict what the consequences for housing and housing finance markets will be. While a rise in joblessness and a fall in incomes is expected to hurt the housing market, demand among those who live in urban areas for “get away” locations could cause prices to rise. March real estate data did not show any decrease in transactions, which had started the year on a strong note. April data shows that prices have risen and supply has diminished as potential sellers are waiting to enter the market.

Going forward, housing affordability and availability is expected to remain a challenge, and the pandemic may be shifting our solutions. It does not seem that development costs will be reduced by the economic disruption, while public and business investor development funds are likely to be impacted. At the same time, there seems to be increased openness to creative partnerships for incremental creation of workforce housing through smaller projects and renovations.

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