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2000 Best Practice Awards

Best of the Best Winners: Vermont

Best Practice: Good News Garage

Community Transportation Program Helps Residents Achieve Self-Sufficiency

Burlington, Vermont.
The Good News Garage in Burlington, Vermont provides a safe, reliable, and affordable means of transportation to low-income residents, allowing them to achieve independence and self-sufficiency. Through partnerships with state and local agencies and faith-based organizations, the Good News Garage receives and restores donated vehicles, which they are able to provide to low-income applicants for minimal cost. Since the program’s inception four years ago, more than 450 vehicles have been made available to individuals throughout Vermont.

The Good News Garage program grew out of an information survey conducted five years ago by the
Burlington Enterprise Community Strategy. The survey revealed that transportation equity was a common concern throughout the social service community and identified individual automobile transportation as a missing link to self-sufficiency for many low-income residents. In this rural state with limited public transportation, having reliable automobile transportation is often the difference between keeping and losing a job.

Initial funding from Lutheran Social Services and Wheat Ridge Ministries created the Good News Garage and the vehicles were restored in space donated by the Vermont Transit Authority. A variety of organizations, including faith-based organizations and services, and state and local agencies, have since joined in the project, and allowed it to serve an increased number of low-income residents.

The partnership of organizations involved in the Good News Garage helps it locate residents in need of
vehicles. Applicants for the reconditioned cars must have gross income less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level and hold a valid driver’s license. Because the need for vehicles exceeds the supply available, the Garage aims to provide vehicles to people who are employed or who are about to be employed, or enter job training, and need reliable transportation. The program also seeks out single parents who need reliable transportation to juggle job and daycare responsibilities.

The State of Vermont’s Reach-Up Program, a welfare-to-work initiative, works with the Good News Garage to provide vehicles for its participants. As an outcome of this partnership, 75 percent of the vehicle recipients have moved off of welfare into full-time employment, 42 percent report increased income, and 38 percent claim they have better access to training and education as a result of having their own vehicles.

The people who donate cars to the Good News Garage to be restored receive tax credits for the full market value of the vehicle. The Vermont Department of Social Welfare provides up to $750 in subsidies to repair the cars, and other partners’ contributions go toward covering additional repair costs and the cars are provided to the recipients as gifts.

Professional mechanics are employed by the Good News Garage to ensure quality repairs. All vehicles are inspected and guaranteed. An apprentice-style auto shop program has emerged at the Garage to teach low-income individuals basic mechanic and auto shop skills. Thus far the program has allowed 10 people to learn valuable skills that increase their employment potential as well as their self-esteem. One program participant stated that the skills she gained through the Good News Garage encouraged her to enroll in a local technical vocation program and further increase her knowledge of auto-mechanics.

Contact: Hal Colston, Phone: (802) 864-3667
Tracking Number: 1145
Winning Category: Geographic

Best Practice: Statewide Nonprofit Homeownership Centers

Homeownership Centers Provide Needed Services to Vermont Communities

Burlington, Vermont.
Homeownership is a dream that many people have but are unable to realize. As in many states across the U.S., homeownership is much more difficult for Vermonters with low- to moderate- incomes. The state of Vermont, coupled with local agencies, has found a way to address the problem. The Vermont Housing Finance Authority initially funded four area nonprofit organizations to create homeownership centers to assist low- and moderate-income people trying to find and purchase affordable housing.

The Vermont Housing Finance Authority identified that many of the state’s low- to moderate-income people had trouble saving money for downpayment and closing costs—the first step in purchasing a home. Coupled with negative credit histories, lack of knowledge about the home buying process and the threat of foreclosure after purchasing a home, many of Vermont’s poorest residents were locked out of the home buying market.

The centers provide a full range of housing services, including homebuyer education, housing counseling, loss mitigation services, rehabilitation counseling and limited funding for rehabilitation, post-ownership and credit counseling. More than 3,000 clients with a multitude of housing assistance issues have been assisted since the 1996 inception of the four homeownership centers. In addition, the number of homeownership centers has expanded to five and now effectively serves residents in the entire state.

The Central Vermont Homeownership Center is a partnership of four nonprofits covering Washington, Northern Windsor and Lamoile counties, and the Burlington Community Land Trust covers Northern Addison, Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin counties. The Gilman Housing Trust covers Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties; the Rockingham Area Community Land Trust covers southern Windsor and

Windham counties; and the Rutland West Neighborhood Housing Services covers Southern Addison, Rutland and Bennington counties.

The National Neighborhood Housing Service has approved four of the five centers, with the fifth expected to receive approval by Fall 2000. In 1997, USDA’s Rural Development Office partnered with this project by providing direct funding and assigning staff to each center to promote rural development programs and provide housing counseling. Two of the homeownership centers are HUD-approved housing counseling agencies.

Organizing a program like the VHFA requires the cooperation of nonprofit, private and state and federal funding sources. With partnerships like the Vermont Finance Housing Authority, the path to homeownership is cleared for many of America’s low-income residents.
Contact: John Olmstead, Phone: (802) 951-6295
Tracking Number: 2063
Winning Category: Program (Housing - Single Family)

Best Practice: The Housing and Communities Show

Television Program Provides Valuable Housing Information to Residents

Burlington, Vermont. For $10 a month, the Vermont State HUD Office and CCTV produced a housing and community development program that reaches an estimated 140,000 viewers in Chittenden County, Vermont. The live call-in program airs the first Wednesday of every month and provides information to viewers that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.

The idea started during Homeownership Week. Michael McNamara, of HUD’s Vermont office, felt that there were enough community issues to cover numerous shows. The first show aired in

Photo of Michael McNamara receiving award from Secretary Cuomo & Deputy Secretary Ramirez
Michael McNamara (c) receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

March of 2000, and one show has aired at least every month since then. Guest speakers cover topics such as homeownership opportunities, development of affordable housing, homelessness and the livable wage.

During Fair Housing Month, the program addressed concerns that the county’s low vacancy rate of less than 1 percent would lead to possible discriminatory acts by landlords. The show also provided information on offices to call if people felt they had suffered discrimination.

Since the show began airing, calls to the channel and the Vermont HUD office have increased. However, for those unable to watch or participate in the live show, a webcast of the show is available on HUD’s website.

Whether through the live call-in program or through the webcast, the show has benefited potential homeowners, renters, landlords, employers and the television station, which needed programs to fill its five-night-a-week programming schedule. The show also benefited HUD’s Vermont office because its limited travel budget meant that a call-in program is the most economical way to reach a large number of people. “For 120 bucks per year and prep time,” says McNamara, “that’s the sum total of what it costs. It’s a cost-effective way of getting HUD’s message out.”

Contact: Michael McNamara, Phone: (802) 951-6289
Tracking Number: 561
Winning Category: Geographic

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Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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