By helping affordable housing providers and food systems groups to collaborate, VHCB's Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative hopes to extend the bounty of our thriving local food system to households living in affordable housing developments.
Why Food Access & Affordable Housing?
There is a close connection between housing security and food security. Both are basic needs that a family must account for, and the two can become competing priorities on a tight budget. According to the Vermont Foodbank’s “Hunger in America 2014” report, conducted in partnership with Feeding America, "52 percent of households who are clients of the Vermont Foodbank were forced to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage at least once in the 12-month period measured. Based on the number of households and individuals the Foodbank served in those 12 months, that amounts to 12.8% of all Vermonters. A family’s ability to pay for their food is directly related to their ability to pay for their housing. Improving one will improve the other."
The clearest obstacle to meeting both needs is poverty. In the sense that food insecurity is a problem because people don’t have enough money available for food purchases, affordable housing is an obvious part of the solution. When families are no longer overburdened by housing expenses, they have more income available for food. Other obstacles, identified by both individuals working in affordable housing and residents themselves, are the cost of food and difficulties in obtaining transportation. These barriers may be further complicated by a lack of experience purchasing, preparing, and preserving fresh food items.
VHCB‘s Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative got off the ground in 2014 when Melanie Meisenheimer, an Emerson National Hunger Fellow hosted by VHCB and sponsored by the Congressional Hunger Center, convened regional meetings in Brattleboro, Rutland, and the Northeast Kingdom to gather affordable housing providers and food system groups to consider how they could connect, understand one another’s work, and identify potential collaborations. Melanie's report, Integrating Food Access & Affordable Housing, summarized the obstacles and opportunities. The regional gatherings spurred many new relationships and collaborations among local partners. In 2017, VHCB hosted additional Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative meetings in Bennington and Central Vermont.
A good resource, published by the Vermont Community Garden Network, is the Edible Landscaping & Community Gardening Toolkit for Affordable Housing Communities.
February 2018 Grants for Food Access Pilot Projects at Affordable Housing Sites
In February 2018, VHCB’s Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative awarded $14,000 in funding to support food access programming at affordable housing sites to increase residents’ access to local, healthy food.
- Burlington Housing Authority - $827.85 to build an emergency food shelf at Franklin Square in Burlington.
- Good Food Good Medicine - $2,800 to run an 8-week cooking and nutrition program at Green Acres in Barre also open to residents of Highgate Apartments.
- Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services - $2,400 to continue a project that transports affordable housing residents across Bennington once a week and brings them to a three-hour exercise, cooking and nutrition class.
- Living Well Group - $3,600 to expand gardening activities at the Ethan Allen Residence in Burlington, purchasing additional raised bed materials for a garden expansion, installing a rain garden, and bringing in the Vermont Community Garden Network to provide garden support and weekly horticultural therapy.
- Shires Housing - $3,500 to provide cooking classes and community gardening at Cora B. Whitney and Applegate Apartments.
- Vermont State Housing Authority - $1,000 to purchase 4 container gardens for Green Mountain Apartments in Northfield.