Phyl Newbeck, Contributor
Kathy Luce has a passion for helping others find affordable housing. She does it for a living as vice president and board member of Maloney Properties, a Boston-based company, and as a director of the board of the Champlain Housing Trust.
Luce grew up in a blue-collar Massachusetts town and later moved to Boston. After some time in the city, she and her husband Dan thought they’d try the rural life for a while, but upon moving to Charlotte in 1994 they realized they didn’t ever want to leave.
Luce’s connection to Vermont preceded the move. Back in the late 1980s, the owners of the Northgate Apartments in Burlington wanted to turn the building into condo units which would have displaced hundreds of families. Bernie Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, objected to the plan and pulled together a group of people, including Brenda Torpy who was the assistant director for housing in the Burlington Community and Economic Development Office. They invited Luce’s company to come and help.
Maloney Properties was known for their efforts to develop affordable, mixed-income housing. Luce had a history of work on public housing developments in Boston with a focus on multi-family and senior housing owned by non-profits with resident involvement. She was called in to manage the transition of Northgate to a resident-controlled community.
“It’s an extremely successful community by any measure,” she said. “There is an active resident component and there are volunteers from the greater community.”
Luce noted that residents have been hired for a variety of positions and at this point, 100 percent of the staff is either current or former residents.
When Torpy left municipal government for what was then called the Burlington Community Land Trust, she invited Luce to serve on the board.
“Brenda is one of those people who, when she asks you to do something, you’re just inspired to say yes,” Luce said. She has been involved with what is now called Champlain Housing Trust for at least 25 years on and off with the gaps due to term limits.
Luce said that Champlain Housing Trust provides a wide spectrum of affordable housing opportunities including the creation of affordable apartments across northwestern Vermont. One important part of their work is their shared equity program, which offers people a chance at home ownership in an affordable way.
“It’s a wealth-building opportunity for low-income Vermonters,” Luce said.
Eligible applicants are able to buy a home without a down payment which allows them to enter a housing market which might otherwise be closed to them. If they sell the home, they get a percentage of the sale price but the rest of the cost stays with the home which remains perpetually affordable.
“There are roughly 3,000 homes we’ve been involved in which will stay affordable in perpetuity,” Luce said. “It’s vital because home ownership has been the path to building wealth in our country and this increases access for people, especially people of color.”
In fact, Champlain Housing Trust has developed a BIPOC home ownership program.
The organization has received both state and national acclaim. “We’re recognized by numerous foundations for cutting-edge work in promoting housing opportunities,” she said.
Champlain Housing Trust has developed a new farmworker housing program to assist with loans for renovations and to create homeownership opportunities for farmers and farm laborers. They also teach home buyer education classes which are open to anyone looking to purchase a home. The non-profit now has roughly 150 people on staff and a budget of $25 million.
Luce finds serving on the board of Champlain Housing Trust is a perfect match for both her professional life and personal values. “Housing is such a critical need, so it’s great to be volunteering at an organization that is doing so much. I don’t see retirement in my immediate future because I really enjoy what I’m doing.”