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Housing Strategy Profile: Norwich

Locality: Norwich, Vermont (USA)

City Population: 3,409 (2019)

Plan Title: Norwich Housing Strategy

Date of Plan: November 2019

Date of Case Study: August 2020

Substantive Highlights

Norwich is a small town in Vermont that has some of the highest housing costs in the state.  Norwich has a limited supply of rental housing – only about one in five households (21%) in Norwich rents their home – and the median sales price of homes in Norwich in 2018 was $649,000, far above what a household making the county median income could afford.   

Norwich’s housing costs are driven by a number of factors, including close proximity to the area’s largest employers – Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH, and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Harford, VT – and a well-regarded public school system that Norwich shares with Hanover and Lyme, NH. Among other impediments to affordable housing, Norwich lacks a town sewer system. This make it difficult to develop a project of the size (generally 25-30 units) that the state generally seeks for awards of 9% low-income housing tax credits.  

The Norwich Housing Strategy was prepared by the Affordable Housing Subcommittee of the Planning Commission and aims to advance three key objectives: 

  • Affordability – ensuring all income level households can find and afford quality housing.
  • Diversity – increasing the range of housing types that are suitable for older adults who wish to age in place, families with children, and the workforce. Also increasing housing available for both rental and purchase.
  • Environmental Sustainability – using green building materials and practices and increasing housing in areas served by public transit or easy access to employment.

The Norwich Housing Strategy is intentionally broad to encourage the development of housing with a wide range of price points for people with different incomes. The four strategies Norwich’s plan are:

  • Encourage the development of affordable housing
  • Facilitate the development of lower-cost housing types
  • Reduce barriers to the development of new housing
  • Expand public understanding of housing issues

The quantifiable goals of the plan are to construct by year 2024:

  • 10 Accessory Dwelling Units
  • 10 units of “missing middle” housing (duplexes, triplexes, etc.)
  • 25 units of dedicated affordable housing

The only local public funding currently available in Norwich is a $45,000 revolving housing fund.  There are a number of state funding sources available, however. Most of the action items included in the strategy focus on ways to facilitate the development of a diverse housing stock without using local subsidy.

Process

To inform the development of the Norwich Housing Strategy, the Affordable Housing Subcommittee held five listening sessions in the first half of 2018: three public meetings at the Marion Cross Elementary School, Tracey Hall, and the Congressional Church and two sessions with the Norwich Business Roundtable and the Energy Committee. Based on this input, the results of a 2018 town survey, and ideas surfaced during subcommittee discussions, the subcommittee prepared a draft strategy, which was refined and approved in 2019 by the Norwich Planning Commission, fulfilling an action step in Norwich’s 2018 town plan.

Outreach and education to the public in Norwich and housing developers in the region is integral to the Housing Strategy. Among other things, this will include dissemination of the Housing Strategy and educational materials addressing frequently asked questions about housing in Norwich. Additionally, the public, Development Review Board, and area developers will be invited to submit cost-reducing ideas on the regulations governing new development.

Metrics, Targets, and Implementation

The housing plan defines three goals that the Planning Commission believes are achievable between the years of 2020 and 2024.

  • Construct at least 10 Accessory Dwelling Units
  • Construct at least 10 units of “missing middle” housing (duplexes, triplexes, etc.)
  • Construct at least 25 units of dedicated affordable housing

Implementation Status

The Plan was approved in November 2019 for the years 2020-2024. The City is still early in the process of implementing the strategy and no outcomes have yet been published.

Coverage of Four Policy Pillars

Not Covered Moderate FocusA pillar is a Moderate Focus of a housing strategy when the strategy addresses it, but in a minor or secondary way, such as by including only one policy of modest projected impact from the pillar. Substantial FocusA pillar is a Substantial Focus of a housing strategy when the strategy includes policies falling within multiple functional subcategories of that pillar or at least one policy projected to have a large impact.
Create and preserve dedicated affordable housing units
Promote affordability by reducing barriers to new supply
Help households access private-market homes
Protect against displacement and poor housing conditions

Participating Agencies

As a small town, Norwich does not a housing department or the capacity to produce affordable housing and thus the Housing Strategy relies on developers to achieve its targets for new affordable and market-rate housing. The majority of activities laid out in the Norwich Housing Strategy are policy, research tasks, and outreach to the public or developers which will be done by volunteers on the Affordable Housing Subcommittee of the Planning Commission and the full Planning Commission, supported by the town planner. Unlike most towns in Vermont, Norwich has a full-time planner, which adds capacity.

 

No Role Supporting Role Leading Role
Office of the Mayor
Office of the City/County Manager
Housing Department
Planning Department
Development Agency
Permitting/Inspections Department
Finance/Tax Department
Public Housing Authority
City/County Council

Policy Tools

Encourage the development of affordable housing

  • Formalize and grow the affordable housing revolving fund (a fund of $45,000 for housing was reinstated in 2018)
  • Review and update the density bonus policy (current policy: a 25% density bonus for planned unit developments in which at least 20% of units are affordable and a 50% density bonus for PUDs that include 50% or more affordable housing units)
  • Consider whether developments of a certain size should be required to include affordable units
  • Investigate the use of land owned or controlled by the town of Norwich for dedicated affordable housing
  • Encourage the donation of land for dedicated affordable housing
  • Conduct outreach to encourage developers of affordable homes to focus on Norwich

Facilitate the development of lower-cost housing types

  • Facilitate the creation of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
  • Facilitate the creation of duplexes, triplexes and other “missing middle housing.”
  • Ensure that zoning rules permit the development of multifamily housing

Reduce barriers to new development 

  • Reduce the cost of developing new housing
  • Consider how to address barriers to development related to limitations on septic capacity

Expand public understanding of housing issues

  • Make it easier for developers and the public to understand Norwich’s zoning rules and affordable housing policies
  • Develop educational materials that address frequently asked questions about affordable housing in Norwich
  • Increase public understanding of how new development will affect town and school property taxes (A majority – over 70% – of property taxes go to school taxes and new development is not likely to have a largely significant impact on property taxes)
  • Investigate models – such as rental registries – for improving public understanding of the housing stock
  • Undertake research to better understand the town’s housing challenges and how best to address them. Research includes 1) the impact of short-term rentals, 2) the needs of owners of manufactured housing or mobile homes (that predate HUD building codes) and options for supporting their rehabilitation and/or replacement, and 3) new building techniques (e.g. tiny homes) and materials that could lower the costs of homeownership and increase sustainability
  • Encourage participation in community conversations around housing from groups that are less well represented, such as low-income families and renters generally

Income Gorups Targeted

The Housing Strategy is intentionally broad and focuses on the full spectrum of housing needs.

Little/No Focus Moderate Focus Substantial Focus
0-30% AMI
30-60% AMI
60-80% AMI
80-120% AMI
Market Rate

 

Principal Housing Policy Objectives

  • Increasing rental affordability
  • Increasing homeownership affordability
  • Increasing housing supply
  • Diversifying housing supply

Which Linkages With Housing Are Addressed?

Sustainability (environment/energy)

Which Local Funding Sources Are Proposed?

Revolving housing fund

Voluntary contributions

See also:
Profiles of Local Housing Strategies
Comprehensiveness and balance – key attributes of a local housing strategy
Balancing increases in affordable housing in resource-rich areas with investments in low-income neighborhoods

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