More money needed to solve affordable housing crisis, advocates say

Watersong

Auburn Watersong and Gilan Merwanji of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence speak at the Vermont Child Poverty Council on Thursday. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

Advocates are backing a hotel occupancy fee to help the state tackle homelessness and affordable housing issues.

In the Pathways from Poverty Council’s annual report to the governor, delivered Thursday, advocates recommended imposing a $2 per night fee on hotel rooms that would go to supporting efforts to reduce homelessness.

The report highlighted affordable housing as “key to the well-being of Vermonters.” It was one of the four major focuses for the 30-member council’s report, along with education, administrative systems and economic security.

The council proposes that the state curb the housing affordability crisis by making new investments in permanent low-cost housing, providing more rental assistance and increasing supportive services.

“One of the challenges for advocates historically has been pointing out where there are problems and not always coming up with a funding solutions,” Chris Curtis, co-chair of the council, said Thursday.

The state has “an affordable housing crisis on its hands,” Curtis said, and the fee could make a big difference for the state in addressing that, including by moving away from the emergency housing motel voucher program.

Meanwhile, the fee would largely be shouldered by tourists, and is “less than the cost of a cup of coffee at many of these establishments,” he said.

Pathways member Erhard Mahnke, of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, emphasized the report’s call for investment in constructing affordable housing. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has been underfunded in recent years, and “the chickens are coming home to roost,” he said. “We have a protracted affordable housing crisis.”

Linda Ryan, co-chair council and executive director of Samaritan House, a shelter in St. Albans, said Thursday that funding is critical to efforts to end family homelessness, and other major anti-poverty goals of the administration.

“We’re not going to do that unless we can raise some revenue,” she said.

Housing affordability is a major barrier to low-income Vermonters, she said. “As everyone knows, the wages are low and the rents are high,” Ryan said.

The proposal riffs on two bills introduced during the first half of the legislative biennium, both of which would use the hotel room fee to fund higher education.

A Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, would put half the money raised toward the Vermont Higher Education Endowment Trust Fund, and the other half toward the state colleges.

A similar bill, from Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, P-West Topsham, would have put half of the revenue from the fee to the same higher education initiatives, but put the other half to fund low-income weatherization.

The nonpartisan legislative Joint Fiscal Office projected that the occupancy fee would raise $12 million annually. However, neither bill made it past committee.

Broad support

The proposal to use a $2 occupancy fee to counter homelessness is gaining support from groups that are not solely focused on housing.

Thursday morning, advocates from the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence encouraged members of the poverty council to consider that proposal to fund housing assistance.

“We need to start talking about revenue,” Watersong, a member of the Pathways From Poverty Council, said after the meeting.

Low vacancy rates and high rents can make it very difficult for victims who are parents to move away from their abuser while keeping their children enrolled in the same school, according to Gilan Merwanji of the network.

“Too often a victim is forced to make the untenable choice between violence or homelessness,” Merwanji told the committee.

Meanwhile, the length of time that victims stay in shelters associated with the network is increasing, as many families struggle to find an affordable place to live.

Already, the shelters are operating at capacity, Merwanji said.

Some 7,251 adults and 1,348 children were sheltered in the nine emergency shelters associated with the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in 2014.

The flow of Vermonters to emergency shelters for sexual and domestic violence victims was so significant in 2014 that the Network couldn’t meet the need, turning away 346 people. Those people would then get support from the state, likely through the emergency housing assistance motel vouchers.

It was not the first time that the Vermont Child Poverty Council heard about lack of housing as a critical issue in the state, Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, chair of the council, said Thursday.

“The theme around housing really being the basis is, I think, really starting to show through for us,” Krowinski said.

Krowinski said that the occupancy fee is “an interesting proposal to put on the table.” The council will also be looking at other ways to fund initiatives related to homelessness and children, such as maximizing federal funds.

Recommendations in the Pathways from Poverty report

Curtis acknowledged that many initiatives spearheaded by the Shumlin administration have made real strides in supporting low-income households in Vermont.

However, he said, there is still work to be done.

“What the report shows, year in and year out, is that while we’ve made some progress in some areas, we have a very long way to go before we solve the problems of poverty in Vermont,” Curtis said.

The 23-page report includes dozens of recommendations pertaining to policy initiatives and investments in new or existing programs. Recommendations include:

• establish a statewide driver restoration program;

• pass “ban the box” legislation that would forbid private sector employers from asking about criminal convictions on the first round of job applications;

• finding a revenue stream that would support Medicaid and close the budget gap;

• carry out a comprehensive study on transportation barriers for elders, people with disabilities and low-income Vermonters.

Elizabeth Hewitt

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57 Comments on "More money needed to solve affordable housing crisis, advocates say"

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Dave Bellini
8 months 15 days ago

We have a budget crisis.
We have an opiate crises.
We have a water quality crisis.
We have a Medicaid crisis.
We have a higher ed. crisis.
We have a community mental health crisis.
We have a climate change crisis.
We have an affordable housing crisis.
Everybody’s in crisis…….

Glenn Thompson
8 months 15 days ago

Which all leads to one big crisis. End result, no one can tackle one crisis at a time. Thus create another crisis in order to ignore all the existing ones! Makes perfect sense to me!

Craig Powers
8 months 14 days ago

Well said Dave.

8 months 14 days ago

The Bellini Crisis List AKA the Shumlin Legacy and Shap Smith Platform.

Just imagine the Bellin List with another term of a Democrat Governor and legislature.

Neil Johnson
8 months 14 days ago

We need more inexpensive homes, not more money.

I know everyone says, bring minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Guess what, you still can’t buy a home on that, they are too expensive.

We can make and have affordable homes for everyone, we just have to stop being snobs and allow them.

William Hays
8 months 12 days ago

Doesn’t FEMA have 4,000+ new, un-used trailers in Louisiana, left over from Katrina? Bring them all up and put solar panels on the rooves. Two problems solved.

Ed Letourneau
8 months 15 days ago

Instead of asking people to pay more in taxes for Medicaid how about someone explaining why 1/3 of the population is on Medicaid?

Then they can keep going and explain why the high taxes here are not responsible for high rents that make people homeless.

Walter Carpenter
8 months 15 days ago

“Instead of asking people to pay more in taxes for Medicaid how about someone explaining why 1/3 of the population is on Medicaid?”

Probably because they cannot afford private insurance, even with the subsidies which are not adequate. And a better question is why cannot we put all Vermonters on medicaid or medicare, thereby having the state in one insurance program instead of a dozen? It would be much less expensive.

Glenn Thompson
8 months 14 days ago

What happened to the “Affordable Care Act” that was suppose to eliminate that problem?

Actually Walter, states that have multiple plans to choose from have cheaper insurance rates than Vermont! Just what did that $200 million to set up Vermont Health Connect really accomplish?

John Greenberg
8 months 13 days ago

Glenn Thompson:
“What happened to the “Affordable Care Act” that was suppose to eliminate that problem?”

As a result of the ACA, there are 19,164 uninsured Vermonters. https://wallethub.com/edu/rates-of-uninsured-by-state-before-after-obamacare/4800/

The number fell by 2.5% between 2013 and 2014: http://kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/key-facts-about-the-uninsured-population/

Neil Johnson
8 months 14 days ago

Hospitals and insurance companies can not afford to operate on what medicare/aid pays. The rest of us pay higher premiums to support the system, which consists of 3 monopolies assisting each other.

And this results in health care cost that are 2x any industrial nation, when in fact we could probably do it for 1/4 of what we currently pay.

But, when you have monopolies right the ACA….. this is what you get.

Jamie Carter
8 months 14 days ago

Why do we have an affordable housing crisis?

Well it may have to do with the $300 / month people have to pay in property taxes. Oh wait, we can’t talk about that because the education fund needs more money not less.

Lea Terhune
8 months 14 days ago

Re: wages low and rents high

Instead of subsidizing low wages, raise the minimum wage!

Neil Johnson
8 months 14 days ago

How about supply and demand. Allow more small homes to be built.

Government clearly isn’t able to solve the problem they created.

Glenn Thompson
8 months 14 days ago

“Instead of subsidizing low wages, raise the minimum wage!”

Raise it to what?

IRENE Stewart
8 months 14 days ago
Chris Curtis, in the column above, states there is a lot more to be done to solve the issues of poverty in Vermont. This past week, Chris Curtis, was quoted in the Times Argus arguing for much higher school taxes for the City of Montpelier, to exceed the 2% threshold for budget increases. His stance each year places more and more Vermont property owners into poverty. On the other hand, he fought to save cuts in disability payments to Vermonters, because they would not be able to afford to live with lower monthly checks which would be about $125.00 less.… Read more »
Phyllis North
8 months 14 days ago

Curtis and other advocates always want more: more taxes, more spending, more taxes, more spending. It never ends.

Neil Johnson
8 months 14 days ago
The real problem is you CAN’T build affordable house because of ZONING!!!!!! And subsidized rent properties is not the answer….small homes, 5-6 per acre on their own water and sewer. Non-profits, lobbyists and insider deals is the death of our small state. How about allowing boarding houses? Simple solution. Our government is completely off their rocker. Don’t these people have any friends that can help them out for a couple of days? It’s just like our town, we spend grant money on studies every 5 years and do nothing. It’s amazing Vermont government can do anything. We need to be… Read more »
Scott Woodward
8 months 14 days ago
The issue of affordable housing is much broader than the issue presented in this article, but that’s not to diminish the issue of housing for low-income Vermonters. Vermont has a rendezvous with its land use policies. In my experience as a planning commission member, when faced with the choice of building housing for people of more modest means vs. bigger and fancier homes, developers (and towns) are almost always going to favor development that will bring a higher profit/higher taxes. This perpetuates higher land values which impacts not only the availability of lower income housing, but also Vermont’s attractiveness to… Read more »
Doug Hoffer
8 months 14 days ago

The source of the data you cited is not official and has a flawed methodology. Of many concerns is the fact that the only housing data reported (by volunteer participants) is for Chittenden County. They completely ignore the rest of the state.

See The Council for Community and Economic Research.

Scott Woodward
8 months 14 days ago

Thanks for pointing that out. Would like to see better data if you know of any and whether better data would yield different inferences.

Scott Woodward
8 months 14 days ago

The Census housing index tells the same story, at least according to Art Woolf: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/money/2015/06/11/home-prices-vermont-affordable-today/71021954/

Doug Hoffer
8 months 14 days ago
Lots of issues with Art’s formula. First, he refers to the median priced home. First time homebuyers rarely buy the median priced home. Second, Vermont has a range of excellent programs to help low- and moderate-income homebuyers that are not available in many other states. Third, he assumes a 20% down payment, which is not required for most homes (only condos). Moreover, Census data from 2000 (latest I could find in a hurry – headed for dinner) showed 23 states with a higher median than Vermont, including every New England state except Maine. In any case, there’s no question housing… Read more »
Glenn Thompson
8 months 14 days ago
Doug Hoffer, “Second, Vermont has a range of excellent programs to help low- and moderate-income homebuyers that are not available in many other states. Third, he assumes a 20% down payment, which is not required for most homes” You really need to be more specific with your remarks and/or at least link to a site to support your claim? I know a young Vermont family that are Lower Middle Income who want to purchase a home in Chittenden county. A down payment is still required and attempt to find a decent home in Chittenden County for under $200,000. Just pull… Read more »
Neil Johnson
8 months 13 days ago
Hi Doug, Would care to disagree, housing is the problem not the wages. We can build homes for less than $1ook all day long. We can do it for less and have them environmentally friendly and efficient. 80% of the world lives on income below our poverty level, they are not out in the cold. State and local regulations are a problem. But we can get grants to do studies, we’ve probably spent millions in the past few decades, studying affordable housing. The zoning and Act 250 are specifically designed to keep modest housing at bay. Our zoning adopted from… Read more »
Peter Chick
8 months 14 days ago

Without good jobs affordable housing will remain out of reach. There are a lot of vacant homes but prices have been driven up artificially. Seasonal tourism based jobs do not pay enough to buy a home. Now they want more money.

John Grady
8 months 14 days ago

The housing advocates should get together and design a few basic model houses so everyone isn’t paying over and over to redesign the next house.
It’s how chains keep costs down, they have standardized their buildings.

Small 2 bed 1 bath houses
and 3 bed 2 bath houses.

with or without basements depending on location.

4 floor plans and pay once to design housing that is easy to build so the cost is kept down and also efficient to own.

Insulated foundations and thick walls, good windows and easy on the window size and number of windows.

Neil Johnson
8 months 14 days ago

We are starting a group to see how close we can get to $50,000 homes.

We believe it can be done.

Neil Johnson,
802-583-9400

John Grady
8 months 14 days ago
Adjusted for inflation a small 1950’s house would cost about $100,000 in today’s dollars. Factor in advances in construction, tons of labor can be saved compared to over 50 years ago so it’s highly possible better houses could be built a lot cheaper and a 1950’s subdivision developer had to build roads and install utilities which was passed onto the buyers. A lot of people think 2500 square feet and high household income is a birth right in this country. It was a fluke and not paid for over the last 45 years as we went from $1 trillion of… Read more »
Jan van Eck
8 months 14 days ago

I would wish to congratulate Neil Johnson for having the personal initiative and sense of moral purpose in stepping up to the plate and getting his demonstration construction project going. I am humbled by Neil’s courage and fortitude.

There is nothing more powerful than citizens banding together. Just do it!

Randy Jorgensen
8 months 13 days ago

Neil, I live in a small home that I built, Family of 5 in 1140 sq/ft. It can be done, but it is certainly tight. I don’t think I could of built it for anywhere near 50k though, even just the house. Concrete is silly expensive up here.

Randy Jorgensen
8 months 13 days ago
Neil. So I was thinking about your 50k ball pack. Here are some off the top of me head prices. Well: ~$10/ft Plus at least 20ft casing by law. My well is 350ft, plus 40ft of casing. All said and done I think it was about $7k. Spetic: Variable. Mound system ~$15k+, standard $8-10k. Those are two big ones that CAN set you back $20k before you even break ground. As I noted, concrete is sill expensive up here compared to other parts of the country. Not sure why. You could do a slab, but not sure how much that… Read more »
Neil Johnson
8 months 12 days ago

Randy ….all true costs. Looking to do 6 on an acre, about 800 to 1100 sq. ft. Share well, share septic (would have to be in ground) Over head electric. $50k lot price. Concrete is the killer. We are looking into straw bail, modular and other foundation materials. We should reach the goal with non traditional (by us standards) but probably closer to 100k, more traditional

Glenn Thompson
8 months 12 days ago
Neil, How much extra to super insulate for energy efficiency and what would you use as a heating source? No doubt, environmental laws, building regulations and permits are expensive. So isn’t water and sewer. Site excavation including concrete foundations, slabs are expensive. That adds up to a great deal of money…and that is excluding the actual construction of the home. In 1977, I designed, and built my own 1300 Sq ft home for under $50K. but that was back in 1977. Given the price of materials and labor now, I’d be shocked if you could build a 800 to 1100… Read more »
Randy Jorgensen
8 months 11 days ago

Neil, You would need to share many things like you said, sewer, water, etc.

Concrete. Can you build them on Sona Tubes? Much like they do in parts of Alaska? That reduce a lot of concrete. I have built barns that way and built ones about the size you mention. Doing it this way I see no reason you couldn’t have a sticked in home with a roof for ~$10k-$12k.

Then it’s just drywall, electrical, etc…

Keith Stern
8 months 14 days ago

Rents are higher because of the cost and time of evicting deadbeats and destructive tenants. That has to be factored into the rental price. Streamline the process and then ask landlords to reduce their rents. Even $50/mo. would mean $600 in the tenants’ pockets. Honest, upstanding people shouldn’t be penalized because of the people who abuse landlords.

David Dempsey
8 months 14 days ago

Well put Keith. I know a few people who own rental properties who are fed up with the regulations you mentioned. Landlords are not in the charity business.

Peter Everett
8 months 14 days ago
Just tax everyone at 100%, that should take care of the problem. People will leave in droves, many leaving their homes vacant. Thus, plenty of homes for those foolish enough to stay. There is not enough money in the entire state to take care of every problem the special interest groups want done. Time to realize that government can’t do it all. Sometime, somewhere, somehow, the people are going to have to step up and take responsibility for themselves. People have to realize that free isn’t really free. Someone is footing the bill for those that receive entitlements. Should a… Read more »
Irene Stewart
8 months 14 days ago
Peter, you have written a comment that encompasses the thoughts and ideas that 90% of Vermonters believe. The other 10% wants everything for free and live a wonderful life on the backs of everyone that works hard everyday. Yesterday, in one of the columns in VtDigger, a lady wrote in that she was all in favor of Zuckerman for Lt Gov because he will raise taxes on the well to do in Vermont. The lady lives in subsidized housing. The lady has Social Security. The lady has Medicare. She is a retired Social Worker, maybe possibly has a pension. Now… Read more »
Doug Hoffer
8 months 14 days ago

That’s both incorrect and offensive. Anyone receiving Social Security and/or Medicare has paid into the system for decades. Nothing for “free.”

In any case, they are federal programs having nothing to do with state policies.

BTW – There is no evidence that a higher percentage of seniors are leaving VT than NH. It’s simply not true. If you have data to the contrary, please provide it.

Peter Everett
8 months 12 days ago
Mr Hoffer, I agree with you, VT seniors aren’t leaving at a greater rate than those from NH….WE CAN’T afford to!!! Our homes can’t be sold for their true value. If we get someone willing to purchase a home, they back out because of the Property Taxes they will be forced to pay. So, yes, Mr Hoffer, although I wish to leave, I’m unable to. Thus, making your statement true. By the way, I’m installing solar panels, hoping this will add incentive for someone to look into the feasibility of purchasing my, over taxed, home. I hold little hope that… Read more »
Doug Hoffer
8 months 12 days ago
Although I don’t doubt your own experience, you did not answer the question. Here are the facts. According to the IRS migration data (much better than Census sample data), twice as many people moved into Vermont as moved out in the last two years (30,000 in vs. 20,000 out). In contrast, our neighbor to the east with no personal income tax (NH) had about the same number move in and out (77,000 in vs. 74,000 out). In addition, during that period, more people moved from NH to VT than went the other way. Times are tough. But there is simply… Read more »
Randy Jorgensen
8 months 12 days ago

That’s for returns non population, correct? A return could include a family of 10 or a family of 1.

It also does not include folks that don’t file.

Randy Jorgensen
8 months 12 days ago

Looking into this from the IRS site, and perhaps Doug could offer clarification. For tax years 2012-13 (latest ones I could seem to get to work)

VT:

Outflow: 10,213 AGI(x1000) $533,481
Inflow: 9,670 AGI(x1000) $539,766

NH

Outflow: 22,896 AGI(x1000) $1,298,190
Inflow: 23,869 AGI(x1000) $1,535,083

Data from here:

https://www.irs.gov/uac/SOI-Tax-Stats-Migration-Data-2012-2013

FWIW NY has the highest out migration in the country.

Randy Jorgensen
8 months 11 days ago

Peter, solar won’t help your resale value. I have looked into it, and that is exactly why I won’t do it. It locks you into your home. Every solar installer I have talked to, including appraisers have told me it adds zero actual value. It’s a lot like adding a pool. It limits your pool of potential buyers.

Peter Everett
8 months 13 days ago
Irene, Thank you for the kind comment. I, do, have to disagree with your comment on the percentage. If that were truly the case, we would not be in the financial mess we’re now in. See, I am really a believer that we should do the best we can to aid those who are in need. Both my wife and I give to various charities every month with left over funds from my monthly retirement payment. Some months we’re able to do more than others. The important aspect is we choose who we give to. Criteria is important. How much… Read more »
John Grady
8 months 13 days ago
http://digital.vpr.net/post/rutland-nonprofit-turns-community-buildings-senior-housing#stream/0 $285,000 per unit ? Nothing affordable about the apartments. They are massively subsidized as are other projects I’ve scene in the news recently. Nobody is auditing the efficiency of the not for profits and the bulk of the funding comes from ? Running a not-for-profit beats being a landlord. Use grant money to fund your real estate empire and pay yourself a good salary while asking for donations to help support your real estate empire ? If lots of government grant money is being poured into not-for-profit housing the efficiency of the system should be questioned. It’s been going… Read more »
Neil Johnson
8 months 12 days ago

oh John….you’re on to what so many don’t know about. There is a big scam going on, funded by all us tax payers….

People need to dig deeper….Grants…Non Profits…oh yes the grease of the insider track to Montpelier money (and feds)….

We’re entering the age of new math, materialism and entitlement…

We need to get back to the roots of Western Civilization, we’re losing our way.

Doug Hoffer
8 months 12 days ago

Mr. Jorgensen

First, you’re looking at totals (which include those moving internationally) rather than domestic.

Second, you’re looking at returns instead of exemptions. The former is households, the latter is people.

Finally, it’s clear that those moving in have more income than those moving out.

What’s your point?

Ed Letourneau
8 months 11 days ago

If people are moving in, why is school enrollment going down? People are not retiring here. Thus, there is something wrong with your data.

Doug Hoffer
8 months 11 days ago

There is nothing wrong with the data from the IRS. You’re assuming that all people moving in have kids. Clearly not. You must also account for birth rates, which contribute to the changing demographic.

As for retirement, lots of people retire here. Otherwise, how could our population of those over 65 be growing so quickly?

Joyce Wilson
8 months 11 days ago
Ed, With the recent Kiplinger release of Vermont as the number one worst state for taxes for retirees, you will see many of the middle class and upper middle class choosing other states to retire. My family is middle class and we will not retire in Vermont. Not sure if we will even make it to retirement in Vermont. Of course, if you are a low-income retiree then Vermont is not so bad, but you need enough Vermonters left paying the taxes and with 30% of Vermonters on Medicaid for some a red flag is being raised! “The Green Mountain… Read more »
Randy Jorgensen
8 months 11 days ago
Doug, I can see that the people moving in have increased AGI by ~10m. That wasn’t my point, nor something I was disputing. I was looking for your input on the data collections and how to utilize it, thank you for the clarification. International Migration seem to be a pretty small portion for both states. By using exemptions for 2012 from above link. We see VT: Outflow 16,155 Inflow 15,405 Net gain of $10m AGI NH: Outflow 37,551 Inflow 40,484 Net gain of $245m AGI Is your data from a later year? It appears that 2013-14 data isn’t available. To… Read more »
Doug Hoffer
8 months 11 days ago

I did the work at home and don’t have the file. I’ll get back to you later.

However, I looked at the AGI data and NH’s net gain in the prior year was almost nothing ($1.3m) so the difference is curious. I don’t know which of those two years is more typical and which is the anomaly. I will look at the earlier years later.

Randy Jorgensen
8 months 11 days ago
Doug, First. Thank you. Perhaps that is the case. As I said, I can’t get the most recent data, 2011-12 can be found here: https://www.irs.gov/uac/SOI-Tax-Stats-Migration-Data-2011-2012 VT: Outflow: 16,032 (AGI (x1000) $532,540)) Inflow: 14,857 (AGI (X1000) $446,445)) AGI -$86m NH: Outflow: 36,137 (AGI (X1000) $1,323,140)) Inflow: 36,481 (AGI (x1000) $1,324,516)) AGI ~ + 1.3M So it looks like your $1.3m number matches with the data from the above site. Disturbing though are the number from VT in 2011-12. It would be interesting to see a long term trend for say the past 15 years, Pre/Post recession to what the impacts have… Read more »
Doug Hoffer
8 months 11 days ago
OK. Here are the facts. I looked at ten years of data. The key is not the nominal amounts, but the net income gained or lost as a percent of total AGI. I wish I could embed a table but I’ll do the best I can (I hope this doesn’t get all garbled). VT NH ’12 – 13 0.06% 0.62% ’11 – 12 -0.58% 0.00% ’10 – 11 0.02% 0.11% ’09 – 10 -0.02% -0.06% ’08 – 09 0.07% 0.14% ’07 – 08 0.14% 0.07% ’06 – 07 0.02% 0.39% ’05 – 06 0.51% 0.70% ’04 – 05 0.42% 0.78%… Read more »
Randy Jorgensen
8 months 10 days ago

Doug,

Thank you for doing this. I’ll put it into my excel sheet. I’ve been busy all day today so I haven’t had a chance to look into the numbers. Once again, thank you for helping me understand the data.

The IRS information is very helpful in understanding trends, as it appears to be the most comprehensive in regards to movement.

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