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A volunteer group in Londonderry is addressing Vermont's housing crisis one home at time

A photo of people in a clearing in the woods, with trucks and tools scattered around the edges, working on the beginnings of a home, with wood on top of a cement slab.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
Members of the Mountain Towns Housing Project cap off a poured foundation for a home the group hopes to complete in 2023. A landowner donated 1.4 acres, and the project is raising money and donating time to put a house up on the property.

On a recent chilly December afternoon, Paul Alcorn stood on a work site in Londonderry while about half a dozen volunteers capped off the poured cement foundation of a new home.

“So this will kind of seal, kind of the whole foundation, and have it be protected, you know, during the snows and the winter, and everything like that,” Alcorn said.

Alcorn is a member of the Mountain Towns Housing Project, which is raising money and volunteering time to build a house for a family which will purchase the property when the construction is completed.

The foundation was poured this summer, and while the organization still needs to raise about $140,000 to finish the rest of the house, this group came out today to pound nails, saw boards, and cap off the basement until next year.

It was about a year ago that a local family donated just under two acres to the cause. The landowners, who have remained anonymous, attended a presentation by Habitat for Humanity, the national organization that builds homes using volunteer labor and donations.

Alcorn says before the land donation, there was not an organized local effort to build an affordable home here in Londonderry.

"We’re really envisioning this as a community build,” Alcorn said. “And we think other people in the community will be just very interested to come, and, you know, help paint clapboard, help, you know, put in insulation. Help with all of those things that people like you and me you know, can do to help make the house affordable.”

More fromBrave Little State: How can Vermont solve its housing crisis?

The group is working with the nearby Windham-Windsor Housing Trust, which has an established selection process based on income and other factors, and the new homeowner will also receive help applying for grants and mortgage assistance.

And Alcorn says the money from the sale of the house will be used to invest in a second project, which he hopes to get of the ground as soon as possible.

“This is community people sitting down around a table to say, how as a community can we do something to begin to respond to this problem,” Alcorn said. “Is it the end-all solution to the housing crisis — crunch — in Vermont? Probably not. But here, in one small space, a group of community people have said, 'We're going to do something.' Rather than just sit and talk about it. Worry about it. Complain about it. Let's go out and pound nails.”

"[H]ere, in one small space, a group of community people have said, 'We're going to do something.' Rather than just sit and talk about it. Worry about it. Complain about it. Let's go out and pound nails.”
Paul Alcorn, member of Mountain Towns Housing Project

The folks involved with this project live in the small towns that dot the nearby ski areas.

They’re from places like Ludlow, Weston, Andover, and here in Londonderry; resort towns that have seen a larger-than-average increase in home values during the pandemic, according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.

Down at the Londonderry Village Market, about a half mile from the work site, Bob Maisey, who is a real estate broker, said the housing supply remains incredibly tight.

“I was just showing one house in Peru that’s on the market,” Maisey said. “I just got done doing that. And there’s just no inventory. I have plenty of buyers that are looking for houses, but there’s no inventory.”

Home values jumped by almost 20% since 2019, according to state tax records, and Maisey says the mountain towns housing market was hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

“Over the pandemic, all the people from outside the state have come bought up, you know, a lot of the rental properties and stuff,” Maisey said. “And they rent them as Airbnb’s, which have taken that stock off the market that was in the past maybe somebody would rent to an employee at one of the resorts that are nearby, and those houses are not available anymore for that.”

Sara Hadley says she and her husband almost gave up after looking about two years in the area. They eventually found a place after a friend connected them with a seller, but Hadley says others who are still looking see little hope on the horizon.

“We look around sometimes, because we have a lot of friends in the area that are looking for houses, even to rent. And it’s not easy,” Hadley said. “Anything that, let’s just call it under $300,000, was either in really bad shape, needed like a new septic, things like that. Or they were on the market for a really short time. Or the houses are, you know, getting toward the million-dollar range. Where, at least the people that I’m close with, can’t afford homes like that.”

The town of Londonderry is trying to address the crisis. They just completed a housing survey, and like a lot of towns in Vermont, local officials are looking at the zoning regulations in towns to see if they can tweak housing codes to make it easier to develop properties. But those fixes will take time.

A photo of a person wearing a hat and using a tool on some pieces of wood.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
Paul Alcorn helps cap off a poured foundation for a home which will be sold to a family next year.

Up on the hill, volunteers are building one single home to move the needle even a little. Among them is Cynthia Gubb, who has seen housing projects going up around the state and the millions of federal COVID relief dollars that are funding the housing.

She understands that towns like Londonderry won’t see big projects like that right away. So she says the group here is just moving ahead on its own, and she hopes it’s not a one-time experience.

“We live in a rural area. We don’t have community septic. We’re not on a transportation line, so the infrastructure’s not there to develop something larger,” Gubb said. “But we can build one house. And then, build another one. We’ll have a template once this is done, of how to do it. And what to do and what not to do. So we can do it again, and hopefully more efficiently and more effectively, so it’s a place to start. It’s that one step.”

The Mountain Towns Housing Project is trying to raise enough money in the next few weeks to order the shell so it can be delivered in early spring.

Gubb says volunteers will be out when the weather warms up to continue work, and to start landscaping the property.

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Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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