Woodstock will pay landlords in nearby towns to house its workers

By ETHAN WEINSTEIN

VtDigger

Published: 05-18-2023 12:33 PM

WOODSTOCK — The town’s economic development commission has expanded its housing incentives, allowing landlords in bordering towns to receive funding to house Woodstock workers in newly created, unused, or formerly short-term rentals. 

Woodstock’s Selectboard approved the amended program Tuesday night. 

The town’s economic development commission — funded by Woodstock’s 1% option tax — first created its rental incentive program last year. The program paid landlords up to $10,000 to build or refurbish rental units to make them livable, and offered similar funds to convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals. 

To obtain the grant, the landlord needed to rent the space for three years to someone working in Woodstock or surrounding towns. Owners could charge no more than $1,000 a month for a studio, $1,500 for a one-bedroom or $2,500 for a multi-bedroom unit, not including utilities.

Like other towns across the state, Woodstock has a dearth of affordable rentals. In turn, some local businesses have struggled to find workers. 

“The market isn’t providing these houses, so we have to provide some subsidies,” said Jill Davies, a member of the economic development commission’s housing working group. 

Now, the program is expanding to cover units in Bridgewater, Pomfret, Reading and Hartland, so long as the units are rented to someone working an average of at least 25 hours per week in Woodstock. 

“You just have to try everything and see what works,” Davies said.

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Davies said the rental program in Woodstock, an upscale tourist destination, was inspired by a similar initiative led by the Big Sky Community Housing Trust in the resort town of Big Sky, Montana. 

The commission also solidified other, minor policy changes to the program. Rather than distributing funds on a per-bedroom basis, the economic development commission will pay landlords according to how many qualified workers they rent to. 

Landlords would receive $2,500 if they sign a qualified tenant to a one-year lease, and $6,000 if they sign a tenant to a two-year lease. A maximum award of $10,000 is available to landlords who sign four or more tenants to two-year leases. 

Additional funds are available if landlords rent to a non-qualified tenant, so long as they also rent to a qualified tenant. 

Previously, landlords needed to sign one-year leases at a minimum with qualified tenants. Now, landlords can receive grant money for six-month leases in order to accommodate seasonal workers. 

Thus far, Woodstock’s rental incentive program has supported or is planning to support 10 units, according to Trena Tolliver, housing advisor for the economic development commission. Funds will support or have already supported the creation of four accessory dwelling units, a new three-bedroom unit, and a three-bedroom apartment being rented to Woodstock workers, she said. 

Tolliver called the program’s changes “enhancements,” adding that current funding would allow for two or three more units. 

“If we get close to hitting the targets, we’ll go back to the (commission) to ask for more funding,” she said. 

Both Tolliver and Davies acknowledged that the 10 units supported thus far are far from enough. Still, they represent a start. 

“We just hope to keep the momentum going,” Tolliver said. “Anything we’ve created or used to get this off the ground, we welcome other people to utilize it, too.”

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