Executive Director Elise Shanbacker Testifies to Vermont House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife
Good morning. My name is Elise Shanbacker and I am the Executive Director of the Addison County Community Trust. ACCT was founded in 1989 to preserve land for affordable housing. Currently we own, manage, and steward over 700 permanently affordable homes, including apartments, houses, and mobile home sites.
All of this has been made possible by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Full statutory funding for VHCB of $35.2 million dollars is more critical now than ever as we work to leverage unprecedented federal resources for housing and conservation projects. Nowhere is this more important than in our mobile home parks, which is what I’d like to highlight for you today.
ACCT is one of the largest mobile home park owners in the state, with nine parks encompassing 340 home sites and five public water systems. As you may know, last year we completed an assessment of the infrastructure in our parks and created a financial plan for funding sorely needed upgrades. Many of the parks date from the 60s and have not had significant infrastructure upgrades in 50 years in some cases. Not only does this jeopardize the homes of hundreds of low- and moderate-income Vermonters, it creates potential environmental hazards that negatively impact quality of life, health, and in extreme cases, safety.
For example, Lindale mobile home park in Middlebury was originally built in 1968 and is home to 67 families with a median income of just about $35,000. Many of the homes have outdated septic systems that are well past the end of their useful life. This has led to sewage backups into homes and sometimes surfacing effluent in yards. We have been working on a community septic solution for the park since 2017 and in the last year have been able to acquire grants and loans to make the project a reality. This includes a $500,000 grant from VHCB without which the project would not be possible. We are in the final stages of permitting and hope to bid the project this spring, but are facing the real possibility that we will need to reapply to VHCB for gap funding due to the skyrocketing costs of construction in Vermont.
To give you a sense of the urgency and impact of this project, I’d like to share with you an email ACCT received from a resident last fall. The note reads, “I am writing this email because our septic tank filled up. It backed up into our house again Friday 10-22-2021. This has been happening now since we lived here over 2 years. I spent about an hour scrubbing the whole shower tub and toilet. I Threw away our shower mat, curtain, and used chemicals to clean with like we have been doing for over 2 years this is a costly expense…Me, wife, and 3 kids should not be exposed to this harmful unsanitary issue. This is a hazard to my health and my families health so please let us know when you will have this problem fixed.”
As you can see, this is as much an issue of environmental justice as it is of affordable housing. Mobile home parks are a vital source of affordable housing for Vermonters and yet are often overlooked in our housing and funding systems. The new Lindale community septic system will not only preserve this housing resource for future generations, it will ensure proper wastewater treatment, water quality, and a healthy environment for park residents and the surrounding ecosystem.
The Lindale project is one of many ACCT is currently undertaking or has in the pipeline. VHCB recently awarded us nearly $300,000 for construction of a new water system at Vaughns in Monkton, and they also awarded us $15,000 for planning a new community septic at Brookside in Starksboro. We will be applying for additional significant construction funds for that project this year. Additionally, we are working on flood hazard mitigation at Lazy Brook and Hillside in Starksboro and Huntington in partnership with the Lewis Creek Association, and new septic systems at Lauritsen in Bristol. None of these projects would be possible without VHCB funding. Furthermore, a $60,000 supplemental capacity award from VHCB recently allowed us to hire a project manager to steer these projects through the incredibly complex funding environment. The challenge will only get greater as we start to navigate the ANR process for allocating new ARPA dollars for Mobile Home Communities and an influx of IIJA infrastructure funds. Full funding for VHCB with flexible state PTT dollars will help us execute on these projects and bring clean water projects to hundreds of Vermonters living in Addison County and the Lake Champlain watershed.
Finally, in addition to full funding for VHCB, another concrete step legislators can take is clarifying to ANR the state statute governing what entities are eligible for subsidy through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The current interpretation in the state’s Intended Use Plan limits subsidy eligibility to municipalities. Nonprofit and cooperatively owned mobile home communities should be categorically eligible for subsidy through the CSWSRF in order to address the consequential environmental justice issues facing these communities. This change needs to be clarified before the upcoming IUP is finalized in June.
Thank you very much for your time today in listening to the environmental challenges and opportunities facing ACCT mobile home parks, for your support of full statutory funding for VHCB, and for considering mobile home parks and the environmental justice impacts of the important work you are doing in this committee.
ACCT staff members share news and information about upcoming events.