Intro sentence that hooks readers into the “why” of the project.
xplanatory paragraph(s) about the project – who, what when, why, how. Funding source(s) and duration of grant period, partner organizations.
Optional FAQ – Can be called “Any Questions?”
The White River Valley Consortium is a relatively new collaboration between fourteen towns in the White River Valley: Braintree, Bethel, Brookfield, Chelsea, Granville, Hancock, Pittsfield, Randolph, Royalton, Rochester, Sharon, Strafford, Stockbridge, and Tunbridge. This is a grassroots collaboration driven by engaged residents and local organizations from these 14 towns who have chosen to work together. These neighboring communities not only face many of the same challenges, but also share many of the same assets: transportation corridors, major employers, school districts and other educational institutions, social services organizations, grassroots community groups, and of course the namesake White River watershed. Many residents live in one of these towns and work in another, and access services and social amenities throughout the region.
What is the Working Communities Challenge and what does it have to do with the White River Valley Consortium?
The Working Communities Challenge is a partnership between Vermont, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, private sector, philanthropy, and communities. The Challenge is a funding competition coordinated by the FRBB that supports collective efforts in Vermont’s rural towns, regions, and small cities to build strong economies and healthy communities.
The WCC program served as the initial catalyst for the WRVC to come together as a united community in 2019. Now, the WCC is supporting a three-year project for the WRVC to work on increasing affordable housing for entry-level workforce and beginning entrepreneurs.
There are many social justice challenges and economic barriers faced by the White River Valley community, and all are extremely important to address. From 2019-2021, the WRVC collected input and discussed many of these challenges. Ultimately, the WRVC cannot work on all these issues simultaneously – especially as a grassroots group that includes volunteer members – and the three-year WCC grant provided an opportunity to get started on one of them. Affordable housing surfaced as one of the issues that is most urgent. A shortage of quality, affordable, safe and energy efficient housing affects both business viability, in all sectors, and the quality of life for our residents. The groundwork is in place for real action that could benefit from collaboration at this geographic scale and from the technical assistance provided through the WCC program.
We know there are many kinds of housing needed in our region, including for those currently unhoused, for young families, and for senior citizens. There are also many wonderful support organizations and other initiatives already underway. The WRVC saw a need for additional capacity to work on affordable housing for entry-level workforce and beginning entrepreneurs, which is essential for keeping our young people in our communities, encouraging innovation in our economies, providing a good quality of life, and attracting new residents. These many forms of housing are complementary, and our work to increase this one type will improve housing for all residents of our area.
The WRVC will be supporting our communities in creating whatever kind of housing is right for them, which may be different from town to town. In general, though, we are looking at more disseminated solutions, rather than a few centralized developments with large numbers of units. That means things like accessory dwelling units (“in-law apartments”), subdividing existing buildings where appropriate, rehabilitating or winterizing older housing, etc. We will also be looking at other support services to make accessing housing more possible, such as financial literacy programming or community loan programs, and at other community development issues that are essential for the physical housing to be an appealing home, such as community social spaces or availability of transportation. Ultimately, we are taking a systems approach to this issue: our program aims not to just create new units, but to address the underlying systems that are causing the shortage in the first place. This means we’ll also be looking at things like land use regulation, tax policy, shortages in the construction industry, broader socio-economic issues, and even cultural factors.
Part of the conversations with each of the fourteen towns over the coming months will be developing goals that represent significant progress, but are scale-appropriate and achievable. We will ultimately identify quantitative targets such as the number of organizations participating in this work, the number of housing units, or percent of young workers and entrepreneurs who are cost-burdened by their housing. Just as importantly, however, we will be building relationships and developing a collaborative process for working together in the future, whether we continue the work on housing or switch our focus to new issues at the end of this first three-year program.
Absolutely! Housing by itself is a complex challenge, and it’s only one of many that we need to address in order to ensure that all those who live in the White River Valley are able to “live their best lives.” We don’t expect this work to be easy, and we don’t expect to solve our housing crisis within three years. But any progress we can make is important, and we believe it will be much more effective to work together than for each of our towns to attempt to go it alone. And right now, we have the support of the WCC program; a group of committed organizations and experts ready to help our community; and the support of many generous, creative, and passionate community members.