ARPA Innovators: Vermont Healthy Homes Programs
by Adam Miller, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, with an introduction by Sarah Goodwin, NCHH.
This is the fifth entry in our “ARPA Innovators” blog series. If you want to read more about the goals of this series or brush up on general information about the American Rescue Plan Act, you can read our introductory post here.
This entry is about Vermont’s two new healthy homes programs, which provide funds to repair water and wastewater quality systems in owner-occupied and manufactured homes. Initial ARPA funding totaled $4.25 million for these two programs.
Healthy Homes On-Site Program
During the pandemic, some Vermont homeowners in low-income communities saw their income disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and had their on-site water (such as wells) or wastewater systems (such as septic tanks and leach fields) fail. Many of these residents are not able to pay for system replacement or repairs, find it challenging to navigate the regulatory landscape necessary to construct a replacement system, have trouble accessing on-site water and wastewater professionals, or have limited access to information about the true costs of on-site water and wastewater solutions, which in addition to capital costs, often include “hidden” operation and maintenance costs.
Vermont’s governor proposed $3 million in ARPA funding to provide safe and reliable drinking water sources and wastewater disposal systems for Vermonters disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The Vermont General Assembly provided an initial $1 million to support this work. Additional funding is anticipated in future fiscal years, ensuring that residents will have access to safe, reliable drinking water and adequate wastewater disposal.
People are struggling in Vermont—economically, emotionally, and physically. A significant number of Vermonters are currently without basic drinking water or wastewater services. These issues, many times hidden from plain view in our own communities, impact the environment and the people we care about—our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family members. This ARPA Healthy Homes On-Site Program provides financial assistance and a hope in addressing a basic human need that has been left largely unresolved for a segment of Vermonters that are already overburdened as a result of the pandemic.
This program will provide financial assistance to residential property owners, including owner-occupied multifamily properties with up to four units. The Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) will provide ARPA funding to owner/applicant-occupied single- and multiunit residential properties that have failing or inadequate on-site water and/or wastewater systems.
With the application for the Healthy Homes On-Site Program funding now open, homeowners can now apply to receive funding to repair or replace a failed or inadequate on-site water or wastewater system. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, and funding will be provided as available.
ANR received approximately 850 applications for financial assistance in the first month alone; It is anticipated that prior to the application close date of April 15, 2022, ANR will receive approximately 1,500 assistance applications. Assuming an 80% eligibility rate for applicants and an average cost per applicant of around $19,500, ANR estimates a financial need around $20-25 million. Given the overwhelming public response to this funding opportunity, coupled with the limited funding allocated to this project, ANR is working with the Vermont administration to explore and identify additional funding to allocate to this important funding.
Healthy Homes Manufactured Housing Community (MHC) Program
Many manufactured housing communities (also known as mobile home parks) in Vermont struggle to provide clean and adequate drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and drainage systems. Vermont’s governor has proposed allocating $15 million in ARPA support to provide technical and financial assistance to remedy those challenges and support safe, affordable housing. The General Assembly has appropriated $3.25 million for this effort for state fiscal year 2022. This funding will provide grants to improve living conditions for people in manufactured housing communities and help residents follow Vermont’s environmental regulations. Grants can be used to complete a needs assessment, receive technical assistance, and cover construction costs necessary to implement water infrastructure solutions.
This funding is targeted at providing water infrastructure grants to manufactured housing communities to invest in healthy, reliable infrastructure to address drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and drainage issues, resulting in healthier, more resilient living spaces for residents in manufactured housing communities, a historically underserved group in Vermont. Manufactured housing communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental justice issues in Vermont. According to the Vermont Rural Environmental Justice Opportunities Informed by Community Expertise (REJOICE), during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, 40% of those impacted by Irene were manufactured housing community residents, even though these residents only make up 8% of the state’s population.
Research has shown that Vermonters, particularly those with lower incomes, have disproportionately experienced increased impacts from COVID-19 compared to the general population of Vermont and the U.S. Additionally, manufactured housing communities typically represent a number of low-income Vermonters. By focusing efforts on manufactured housing communities through technical assistance, needs assessments and construction grant programs, Vermont is providing direct relief and technical and financial assistance to a demographic of Vermont’s population that have historically been underserved, under-represented, and overburdened.
Currently, ANR is preparing to open the ARPA Healthy Homes MHC program for applications in the month of April. Applications will remain open for approximately six weeks, at which time first-round applications will be reviewed, scored, and selected for funding. Depending on the availability of funds, the application period will remain open on a rolling basis.
One of the most helpful things through ANR’s Healthy Homes planning has been the nature and flexibility of the ARPA funding. Past types of federal funds work to create transformational change however lack the flexibility and means to be truly transformational in nature. With the receipt of ARPA funding and the flexibility provided in the funds ANR has been able to provide flexibility in catering a financial assistance program targeted at healthy homes that meets people’s needs. In the case of the healthy homes “on-site” program, the ability to provide beneficiary payments to recipients so they do not have to front up front costs for building and design makes a program much more accessible to those that truly need it. In the case of the healthy homes MHC program, the ability to provide financial assistance to MHC residents regardless of the ownership status of the community (e.g. private, non-profit, or cooperative owned) allows ANR to provide assistance to MHC residents who need the assistance the most without excluding someone due to circumstances that are outside of their control.
Achieving significant change with a new federal funding mechanism is not something that’s easy to do. It requires time, collaboration, flexibility, and the ability to accept risk and uncertainty. Throughout these entire processes a strong central goal and purpose needs to guide this work. For ANR, the guiding vision has been and continues to be “We need to provide financial assistance to the people who need it the most in the most efficient, effective way that we can that benefits people and the environment.” Maintaining this core principle and goal has been and continues to be key and hopefully this similar type of core principle can serve as an effective goal post for other localities and organizations that are administering similar healthy homes work.
How Innovative Communities Are Using ARPA Funds to Transform Housing and Address Environmental Hazards
Read or revisit the introductory blog about our “ARPA Innovators” or visit another blog in this series:
The American Rescue Plan: A New Opportunity for Healthy Homes Funding
Read our previous blog about the American Rescue Plan, by NCHH’s Sarah Goodwin and Devra Levy from the Childhood Lead Action Project.
The American Rescue Plan: Opportunities to Address Lead in Paint and Pipes
This fact sheet from NCHH clarifies the applicable uses for ARPA funding by states and localities and demonstates how communities can benefit from investments in lead-based paint remediation and lead service line replavcement. [pdf; NCHH, 2021]
The American Rescue Plan: Opportunities to Address Lead Hazards in Homes
This fact sheet from NCHH clarifies the applicable uses for ARPA funding by states and localities and demonstates how communities can benefit from investments in various healthy homes-related programs. [pdf; NCHH, 2021]
Adam Miller is the Environmental Compliance Division Director for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. He works to ensure that Vermont’s environmental regulations are followed on a proactive basis (through effective public outreach and assistance) and reactive basis (through utilization of proper enforcement tools). Adam grew up in western Pennsylvania and possesses a BS in wildlife and fisheries science from Pennsylvania State University. Prior to working as the Environmental Compliance Division Director, he served the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department managing several fish and wildlife conservation programs as well as in the private nonprofit sector doing aquaculture and fisheries conservation work. He is an avid outdoor enthusiast and enjoys sharing his love of fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats with everyone he encounters. Contact Mr.Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org, 802.777.2852.