RAY SUAREZ: Burlington, Vermont: Population 39,000. A charming university city on the shores of Lake Champlain, it's been ranked one of the nation's most livable areas -- if you can afford a place to live.
BRENDA TORPY, Burlington Community Land Trust: What we're experiencing here is a land gentrification problem: The cost of land, the cost of building, the access to land in our state has far exceeded what working people can afford.
RAY SUAREZ: Burlington is one of a growing number of metropolitan areas nationwide, where the median-earning household can't afford the median-priced house. The vacancy rate for rentals hovers around 1 percent. It's even harder to buy a house. Demand has driven up prices, and wages haven't kept pace. Vicky Philby's experience is typical: Mother of two, she works in a pharmacy; her husband is unemployed. A new landlord decided to renovate the three-bedroom house they had rented for $500 a month for three years, and triple the rent.
VICKY PHILBY: Once the renovations were done, he was going to increase the rent to $1,500 per month.
RAY SUAREZ: Is $1,500 in your price range?
VICKY PHILBY: Not at all. I couldn't even come close to it.
RAY SUAREZ: Philby finally found a smaller two-bedroom house for almost twice her old rent. She's not alone. Many middle income people can't afford to live here-- police officers, firefighters, and teachers, people who do a lot of the day-to-day work that makes the city run. Art teacher Jean Waltz is a single mother of two. Her search for a house has been frustrating.
JEAN WALTZ: Even though I have a full- time job, and even though I have great credit, and all this kind of stuff, I still couldn't afford it.
RAY SUAREZ: The federal government defines an affordable home as one that costs no more than 30 percent of family income. That means, in the Burlington area, the family has to earn about $15 an hour, or $32,600 a year, to afford a two-bedroom apartment. And there aren't many of those, so working people can end up living in motels and shelters.
RAY SUAREZ: Julie and Mike Ohrenbach, and their son, Dakota, waited two months for a room at a shelter. Julie works at a grocery store, and Mike is a security guard.
JULIE OHRENBACH: There is nothing. Most of the even the one bedrooms that I've seen, they want as much as $750, $800.
RAY SUAREZ: And that would just be a strain for you guys.
JULIE OHRENBACH: Yeah.
RITA MARKLEY, Committee on Temporary Shelter: We just bought this facility to meet the needs of ever-growing number of families in trouble.
RAY SUAREZ: Rita Markley runs Burlington's emergency housing program. She says the Ohrenbach's predicament is common and disturbing.
RITA MARKLEY: The most dramatic shift we've seen in our demographics is the number of families who are homeless. And even more remarkably, half of them are working. They're families who have both parents employed, and they still can't make it in this housing market.
RAY SUAREZ: A family earning the local median household income of about $50,000 only qualifies for a home costing in the neighborhood of $135,000. Real estate agent Carol Hinkel.
CAROL HINKEL, Real Estate Agent: The single family homes under $200,000 are really rare to find. We have virtually no new homes being built.
RAY SUAREZ: That's the basic problem: Pricey homes are being built; affordable ones, no. Here's what's driving shortages and high costs in the Burlington area. Many nearby towns forbid duplexes, apartment houses, and single-family homes in the same neighborhood; ironically, the original pattern of the old New England Town Center. There are the expectations newcomers bring to Vermont, searching for that perfect place in the country.
Developers have responded with homes on large lots, many ten acres in size, that eat up farmland and forest. And getting a building permit has made it difficult to build new, affordable housing. State land-use laws allow opponents of a project to hold it up for any reason. Brenda Torpy, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing, recently served on a housing task force.
BRENDA TORPY, Burlington Community Land Trust: We were looking at what was in the planning pipeline for the city, and of the 100... well, almost 200 projects proposed and in process, all but three have been appealed in planning. I feel there's something really broken in our process if you have these opportunities on the books for certain densities and people can stop you from building.
RAY SUAREZ: Juli Beth Hoover, the director of zoning and planning for South Burlington, blames the permit challenges for the affordable housing shortage.
JULI BETH HOOVER, South Burlington Zoning & Planning: When you can't bring a product to market without believing you are going to be in for extensive delays, permitting costs, unanticipated costs relating to that process, you're going to shoot for a housing product where you know that you'll be able to cover those costs in the end. That means that a lot of developers are choosing to... choosing only to develop things in the $200,000-plus range.
SPOKESMAN: We made a policy on that.
RAY SUAREZ: Developer Bob Marcellino wants to build 47 homes on an old farm. His building permit has been challenged by a neighboring condo association for over a year, and it could be held up four more. Marcellino says his projects' opponents often appeal on environmental grounds, when they're really trying to squeeze some other concession from the developer.
BOB MARCELLINO, Real Estate Developer: They want you to erase some units so that...their back yard, they won't see something in their back yard, or they want you to do a lot of additional landscaping for them. And it's just... it's a way to get something that they don't legally have a right to do, but they can take the permit process and use it because developers...you know, they know that it's going to be a year or more, and it's a better business decisions, sometimes, to just give them what they want.
RAY SUAREZ: Carol Barnard, president of the condo association, says she and her neighbors are concerned about the wetlands on the property, and the potential pollution of Lake Champlain from storm water runoff; and the planned homes are just too close.
RAY SUAREZ: The way this is designed, the fronts of these houses will be oriented away from your development toward the center of theirs.
CAROL BARNARD, Wellesley Grove Condo Association: Towards the center of theirs, but they'll be elevated six feet.
RAY SUAREZ: Ah.
CAROL BARNARD: They'll be, you know, looking down from the roadways, and so on and so forth. So, yeah, we'll have our backs to each other-- bedroom to bedroom/deck to deck.
RAY SUAREZ: Marcellino says the changes made to appease the condo owners have already upped the price of the homes.
BOB MARCELLINO: Instead of 47, had we been able to put 60 or 70 out there, then clearly those costs would have been divided among a bigger number, they would have been less per unit, and we could have delivered more units at an affordable range.
RAY SUAREZ: For Carol Barnard, the higher price tag is worth it.
CAROL BARNARD: I think most of us are willing to pay a little bit more to get something that's much better.
RAY SUAREZ: But Jim Doyle can't pay more. He manages a warehouse and delivers auto glass. His wife, Roseanne, is an accounts manager for a distribution company. They hunted for a house they could afford for three years, while living with their two daughters in an old trailer.
JIM DOYLE: We really felt like it was going to take a miracle.
ROSEANNE DOYLE: It was frustrating. It was very frustrating. You want to knock on people's doors and go, "How did you get in here? (Laughs) Did your family own this 100 years ago? Was it passed down to you?"
JIM DOYLE: That's exactly what it was.
RAY SUAREZ: The Doyles recently found an innovative solution at the Burlington Community Land Trust, a major local effort to create affordable housing. Under their sales agreement, they own their house; the Trust owns the land. In addition to a mortgage spelling out the unusual arrangement, the Doyles got a cash grant and a course in home ownership.
ROSEANNE DOYLE: They teach you budgeting; they teach you how to go about looking for a home, things to look for, financing, how to go through financing, and for some people who may have bad credit, they show you how to repair your bad credit.
RAY SUAREZ: If Jim and Roseanne Doyle sell, they keep their mortgage equity, but they share any profit with the Trust. Brenda Torpy is executive director of the Burlington Community Land Trust.
BRENDA TORPY: The only thing in the ground lease that's different from ownership is that when they go to sell, they can't take all the profit with them, and we can make it affordable a second time around. And they get 25 percent of the inflation, which is just the market appreciation. So let's say you bought a house at $80,000 and then when you go to sell it appraises at $100,000, you get the $5,000 profit plus what you put into it, and the $15,000 goes to subsidize the next buyer.
RAY SUAREZ: The Doyles say they don't mind the restrictions. They aren't motivated by profit.
ROSEANNE DOYLE: We're not in this to make money. This is not an investment property for us. This is a home. This is where we want to stay.
JIM DOYLE: That's right.
ROSEANNE DOYLE: You know, for our children to grow up, and for us to retire.
RAY SUAREZ: The Burlington Community Land Trust was created in 1984, during another period of escalating housing prices, when Burlington's leaders chose not to build large public housing projects or subsidize landlords. The Trust focused first on revitalizing and creating affordable homes in an old, rundown neighborhood.
BRENDA TROPY: We're taking houses that are foreclosed, and boarded up, and beyond repair, and fixing them up. We're adding to the value of properties around.
RAY SUAREZ: By applying what it's learned to a wider range of projects, the Trust has become an inventive and flexible force in the Burlington area, developing community centers, housing co-ops, downtown rental apartments, and commercial space. Next, they're building rental housing on the pricey waterfront. Still, Mayor Peter Clavell admits their efforts are hardly enough.
MAYOR PETER CLAVELL, Burlington, VT: I think we're making some progress and some inroads, but I'll be the first one to say there's much more work ahead of us in this community and across the country. (Applause)
RAY SUAREZ: The Trust is celebrating its successful partnership with 14 other nonprofit housing groups in the rehab of a single foreclosure, now owned by art teacher Jean Waltz.
JEAN WALTZ: It takes a lot of nonprofits to get a low income, single mom a house.
BRENDA TORPY: Every one we do is a victory, but for every one we do we should be doing 100. You have 14 partners to do this one single-family home and just a layering of programs. It's a wonderful victory when you have to go through all those hoops to create one home. But is it smart? Is it efficient?
RAY SUAREZ: Torpy and her colleagues worry that their programs, as innovative and successful as they are, can't reverse the trend when the demand for housing is so deep and broad. Even building at a brisk pace, Northwest Vermont will be short 10,000 housing units over the next decade.