BRATTLEBORO—A spirit of solidarity was in the air as Westgate Housing Inc. and the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust recently celebrated their partnership at WHI’s annual meeting.
Westgate Board President Julie Maloof praised the efforts of both the Westgate board and Housing Trust.
“Society often sells us short because we can’t afford as much as others,” Maloof said as she spoke to about 100 residents in attendance. “But we deserve respect for who we are, what we are, and how we live.”
A resident-led nonprofit, Westgate comprises 98 affordable housing apartments located in Brattleboro.
The Housing Trust and Westgate Housing formally entered into an equal partnership this past year, allowing Westgate properties to continue to be resident led.
“If you don’t speak up you can’t complain about it,” Maloof joked. On a more serious note, she added, “This partnership means that when a crisis comes up, we have to make that decision.”
According to a news release, the property was in danger of being sold to private developers a few years ago, and was likely to lose its affordable aspect. This would have ultimately meant that residents would have had to leave the homes they had long known.
Housing Vermont originally partnered with Westgate for many years so the residents could stay and also keep the tenant-led model intact. When that partnership ended, Westgate began looking for another strong organization to partner with and sought out the Housing Trust.
State Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, state Rep. Valerie Stuart, D-Brattleboro, and Katie Buckley, the state’s housing and community development commissioner, were at WHI’s annual meeting to help celebrate the partnership.
Sarah Carpenter, executive director of the Vermont Housing and Finance Authority, was also in attendance and read a statement from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in which the senator expressed his admiration for the resident-led model and also sent along a gift of an American flag that had once flown over the U.S. Capitol.
Carpenter, who had been involved with the partnership from the start, said tenant control had always been the “original vision” of both Westgate and the Housing Trust.
Housing Trust Executive Director Elizabeth Bridgewater told the crowd how pleased she was to witness the resident-led model in action.
“This really gives people a voice,” she said, “as the decision-makers and problem solvers in their own community.”
Westgate resident Shirley Dunleavy said residents were excited to take on a more integral role in the workings of the community.
“My husband, Charles, is running for the board of directors,” she said proudly. “He really wanted to be a part of the decision-making process.”
The Westgate board of directors, along with community director Greg Masterson, help organize a food shelf, trips to local shops, and a monthly potluck dinner where residents can participate in discussions about the community and learn about any new issues or events.
“Westgate is you, Westgate is us,” Maloof said with pride at the end of her speech. “Everyone is significant here.”