So many Vermonters feel stuck between qualifying for services and trying to make ends meet. If your income is above a certain level there is little or no available support, yet you may still not earn quite enough to afford to live in what can be a very expensive state.
Downstreet resident and Board member Michael Simmons knows this feeling because he experienced it. In 2011 Michael and his wife Tausha purchased a modest home in need of some TLC. They worked hard and put all of their disposable income toward repairing the cracked foundation, swapping out the drafty, single pane windows for new ones, insulating the floors and walls, and replacing the rotting doors. With dedication, a thrifty style and some good old fashioned elbow grease, Michael and Tausha had managed to transform the old house into a decent starter home.
Things were looking up, but the couple was never quite able to get ahead financially and continued to live paycheck to paycheck. And then, as often happens when we least expect it, life came along and threw Michael and Tausha a curveball: they learned that a baby was on the way.
Overjoyed, Michael and his wife’s excitement was tempered with financial concerns. It was a given that both parents would need to continue to work in order to afford to live in their modest home, but they both had long commute times and knew that childcare would add stress to their already tenuous finances. To make matters worse, soon after little Zoey was born the proud new parents learned that she had allergies that required specialized formula that cost $35 every 5-6 days. Michael and Tausha managed to make things work for a time, but their new routine – the long commute, the cost of childcare at $200 a month, the formula, and the time away from their newborn baby – just wasn’t sustainable for their family. Ultimately they made the difficult decision for Tausha to leave her job and stay home with Zoey.
With the reduction in income and the time demands of an infant, Michael and Tausha’s home quickly fell into disrepair. Michael says, “We had spent the first couple years replacing half of the house, but it was coming time to replace the other half. One day I came home from work and found that part of my bed had sank through the floor. Another day, the refrigerator starting to sink through the floor due to a leaky pipe I didn’t know about. Our pipes started to freeze, and mold was developing in the crawl space. On a walk with my daughter around the property, I looked up and saw that the roof was starting to cave in above our bedroom area.”
Something needed to be done. Michael and Tausha refinanced their mortgage, student loans, and credit cards. They sold one of their cars and pinched every penny they could to make things work. As summer drew to a close, it was apparent that the family could not live in the house for another cold Vermont winter. “For every repair we made, two more things were found needing fixing,” says Michael. “We sat down and did the math: if the next winter was anything like the last, we would be having to choose between heating our home and feeding ourselves.”
After unsuccessfully searching for an apartment they could afford, Michael came across Downstreet’s website. Michael explains, “When I read that they helped to provide “affordable” housing, I initially thought it would be like all the other things I tried: I would apply, they would say I made too much money, and I would be back in the same boat… Imagine my surprise when I got a call from a nice lady at Downstreet letting me know they received my application and wanted to talk further about it.”