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Vermont Initiative Awards $12.6M to Improve Mobile Home Water System

Mon February 13, 2023 - Northeast Edition #9

To improve water systems in 36 manufactured housing communities in Vermont, the state is awarding $12.6 million as part of its Healthy Homes Initiative.

Gov. Phil Scott announced Feb. 8 that the money will go toward repairing and replacing water and sewer systems, as well as assessing what other infrastructure work is needed, at mobile home communities across the state, reported VTDigger, a nonprofit news service.

"Through this round of funding, an estimated 3,975 residents — including 1,100 seniors and 830 children — will be able to more reliably access safe drinking water, and will be served by improved wastewater, stormwater, and drainage systems, protecting both them and the environment," Scott said.

The help is desperately needed, according to Dave Sawyer, who works in operations at Weston's Mobile Home Cooperative in Berlin, Vt. It will receive $1.325 million for repair and replacement of its water systems, which have not been upgraded in years.

Weston's was once privately run, but residents gained ownership of the park in 2017. It has battled problems with improperly installed water lines and wells every year, Sawyer told VTDigger.

"When this money came out, we knew we needed to get our system upgraded to supply [our] middle- to low-income housing," he said.

Vermont Program Funded by ARPA

The Healthy Homes Initiative operates through the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), tapping a total of $24.75 million available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Funding is being directed through three avenues to improve water systems at manufactured housing communities, according to Megan Cousino, environmental program manager at the state's Department of Environmental Conservation.

The $12.6 million will not only repair or replace water systems, she said, but will pay for studies of existing water systems, and what is needed to bring them up to modern standards. It also will help pay for permits so construction can begin, Cousino noted.

VTDigger reported that about a third of the projects will involve studies to learn what will improve the water and sewer systems, while the rest will focus on technical help, permitting and construction.

According to ANR, environmental concerns disproportionately affect manufactured housing communities.

In 2011, 40 percent of the people affected by Tropical Storm Irene's rampage through Vermont were residents in manufactured housing communities, while only 8 percent of the state's total population lives in these communities, noted REJOICE, the Vermont Rural Environmental Justice Opportunities Informed by Community Expertise.

The Healthy Homes Initiative is based on the understanding that improving the water, sewer, and drainage systems will not only help the residents of these communities, but improve the nearby environment.

"If somebody is properly disposing of their wastewater, that means it's going into the environment in a way that's better for [the environment and] keeps humans away from where that waste might end up," Cousino explained.

ANR Keeps Rents Lower for Mobile Home Residents

Thirty-nine mobile home communities in Vermont applied for funding through the Healthy Homes Initiative last summer for about 90 projects involving repairs, upgrades or replacements of water, sewer and drainage systems, added Cousino.

Leaders of the program are already thinking ahead to future improvements, noted VTDigger.

She hopes that any manufactured housing community that did not apply this year, or any who want to continue their improvements from this round of funding, will apply for the second round of funding from the $24.75 million. ANR hopes to open those applications in late spring.

Sawyer said the money awarded to Weston's Mobile Home Cooperative will not only improve the water systems in the community but will also ensure financial stability for many residents in the member-owned cooperative.

If Weston's had to take on the repairs and replacements itself, those costs could significantly affect the price of living there, he said in speaking with VTDigger, adding that many folks may then not be able to continue living in the park.

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