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Development proposal at Berlin Mall to include affordable housing

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 9:55 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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BERLIN, Vt. (WCAX) - Housing in Vermont can be scarce and expensive. That’s especially true in Washington County.

For renters there, it’s slim pickings when it comes to finding an affordable place to live.

“I have looked in the past and it’s pretty tough. I have friends that look and I don’t have any place to send them in town. It’s tough to find them,” said Corey Flynn of Montpelier.

“There is no housing and the amount that it is way more than we make,” said Michael Enman of Berlin.

But some help might be on the way. A project at the Berlin Mall being co-developed by Downstreet Housing & Community Development and Evernorth and will include 30 units of mixed-income affordable rental units.

“This really just finalizes the preliminary work that has been done, there is really no issues with the town with this point, and in fact, the town is fully supportive of it,” said Vince Conti, the town administrator in Berlin. He welcomes the idea. “Absolutely, there is a huge need for housing in the Central Vermont area in general.”

“There’s a big need for affordable housing in the state, in Washington County specifically. After Chittenden County it has the lowest vacancy rate in the state,” said Maura Collins, executive director of Vermont Housing Finance Agency. Collins says she is excited about this proposal and that when affordable housing isn’t available, it just creates more issues. “That puts upward pressure on rents and why housing especially for renters gets less and less affordable but it also limits economic development and growth for our state.”

So what is affordable? Collins says affordable housing is based on one’s income. “Really it just means when someone looks at their income that no more than 30% of their income is being spent on their housing with their utilities,” she said.

But people we spoke with say they still spend more. “I would say myself, I am definitely above 30% right now, especially with COVID the last year,” Flynn said.

But now there’s hope that adding housing will help ease that burden.

The project is fully funded and has begun the permitting process, with construction planned to begin in the spring of 2022.

The Berlin Mall is developing a separate project for retail space as part of the town’s “village center” concept.

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