PUTNEY—It was a standing-room-only house in the fire station’s meeting room the evening of March 31, when Bob Stevens of Brattleboro-based architecture firm Stevens & Associates presented plans and information on two proposed affordable housing projects: the Noyes House and Putney Landing.
More than 30 residents showed up to the public hearing of the Affordable Housing Committee and the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) with questions and comments about the two projects.
The historic Noyes House, on Kimball Hill, has eight single-resident occupancy (SRO) rooms, with residents sharing common areas. Putney Cares, a nonprofit group serving the elderly community, owns the building; the WWHT manages it.
A new 18-unit complex, which the WWHT is calling “Putney Landing,” will also have ADA-compliant homes.
Most indicated support for the plans, including resident Eva Mondon, who encouraged “everyone in the room” to donate to the WWHT.
WWHT seeks to buy Noyes House
Most of the work on the Noyes House will happen indoors, with extensive renovations converting the layout to three single-room occupancy units and four one-bedroom apartments.
Exterior work will be minimal, said WWHT Director of Housing Development Peter Paggi, because “we want to preserve the historical character of the building.”
“We’re just fixing up what’s needed,” he said.
Connie Snow, executive director of WWHT, told attendees that Putney Cares has been trying to sell the Noyes House for about two years because the organization wants to focus efforts on other programming.
Those efforts include continuing events at the Activities Barn, which Putney Cares is not looking to sell, Snow said.
She said the organization’s officials approached the housing trust because they wanted to preserve Noyes House as affordable housing. For this project, the WWHT is working with Housing Vermont, a Burlington-based nonprofit that creates permanently affordable housing through public and private partnerships.
Snow told The Commons that the project is still in the early stages. The housing trust, Putney Cares, and Housing Vermont are still negotiating terms on Noyes House, she said, but “everybody would like this to happen.”
“We hope by the late fall to have some permits in hand and have funding secured,” Snow said, adding, “with luck, we’ll close on the project in December.”
At the meeting, after a resident asked what will happen to the people living in Noyes House, Snow explained that, when the agency renovates an apartment building, it relocates the residents to other WWHT housing.
When the work is complete, residents are given the option of moving back in.
“Everyone is always welcomed back into the apartment,” Snow said, but some opt to stay where WWHT moved them, or seek other living situations.
The Noyes House will not have an age restriction, Snow said, noting the home has been mixed-age “for a while.” It will have an entrance ramp and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, she said.
Putney Landing to add 18 housing units
The Putney Landing project, proposed for a 5.6-acre tract of south-facing, sloping land between Putney Landing Road and Old Depot Road, consists of what Stevens described as “a little enclave of 18 units centered around a commons.”
Two of the units will be fully ADA compliant, Snow said. Some will be adaptable, meaning that they can be quickly brought to full compliance.
S2 Architecture, of Shelburne, Vt., is designing the complex, Stevens said.
The three buildings will house two-story townhouses and single-story flats made up of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. There will be no interior corridors, and each apartment will have its own front and back doors, as well as some private outdoor space and semi-public space.
Stevens characterized the buildings at Putney Landing as “high-performance” and noted the “tight thermal envelopes” and central wood pellet boiler. To mitigate water runoff from the roofs and parking lots, a rain garden is planned for the property, he said.
Also, “It’s rare to find a little piece of land that’s got water and sewer, and be close to town,” he told attendees.
“We’re very early in the process,” Stevens said, noting the project managers are getting cost estimates and seeking funding.
In the next month, he said, the final design will be completed. Then, by the summer, there will be the public notice period, and by the fall, the Development Review Board and Act 250 permitting process will be underway. Construction could possibly begin next winter, Snow said.
Serving a need
Both projects are lauded by the WWHT as providing more Putney residents the opportunity to live in affordable housing close to village amenities and public transportation.
Selectoard member Josh Laughlin told the group his biggest fear with buildings is having them deteriorate and cause public safety hazards, but he said the WWHT does a great job maintaining their buildings.
When The Commons asked Laughlin if the Selectboard would support these projects, he said, “absolutely — unanimous support.” He noted the “nice” design of Putney Landing, and that the scale is “palatable” and “friendly-sized” for the village.
When resident Alan Blood asked how the WWHT keeps rents affordable, Snow cited energy efficiency and low maintenance as a result of using high-quality materials as two of the factors.
Another element, Snow said, is “we raise money, and close without a mortgage.” Plus, she said, the WWHT expects to make no profit through the rents it collects.
After the group presented the proposals, Snow spoke about Putney’s need for affordable housing and showed slides with data on housing needs and costs in the community.
According to the information she provided, some of it taken from a January 2016, marketing study by Doug Kennedy Advisors, approximately 677 people live in 360 households that rent in Putney.
The median annual rental household income is $34,726, Snow said, noting that means “half of your renters earn less than that amount.”
To afford a “modest, two-bedroom apartment in the community,” a person working 40 hours a week would have to earn $18.69 an hour, Snow said, which comes to about $39,000 per year. But, she pointed out, that is about $5,000 more than the median income.
Making matters worse, half the renters in Vermont are single, she said, and workers with service jobs (such as cashiers) earn only about $9.73 per hour.
Snow said the affordable-housing vacancy rate in Putney is less than 1 percent, and while elders have access to affordable housing, singles and families have next to nothing.
According to the study, the market rent in Putney for a one-bedroom apartment is $940 per month, including utilities.
This is where the WWHT’s rental structure can make a difference.
One-bedroom apartments in WWHT buildings include heat and hot water and cost between $525 and $600 per month. The most expensive apartments the housing trust rents are three-bedroom units, and those go for $900 per month.
Market rates on a three-bedroom rental are about $1,570 per month, the study observed.
Thus, Snow said, the study concludes that demand far exceeds supply, and demand for affordable one-bedroom apartments is particularly strong. The study anticipates that within two to three months, Putney Landing will be fully rented.
“It sounds like we’ll need more projects in the near future,” Blood pointed out.
“I love this one,” he said, “so let’s plan for another one."