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A 2009 photo of the Lamplighter Motel’s distinctive and deteriorating sign.

News

A new housing model for Brattleboro

Proposal seeks to turn motel into supportive apartments for those in need of shelter, social services

BRATTLEBORO—At a Nov. 15 Brattleboro Selectboard meeting, Windham & Windsor Housing Trust Executive Director Connie Snow announced that her nonprofit has an option to buy the Lamplighter Motel on Putney Road.

The Housing Trust and Groundworks Collaborative are teaming up on a $4.3 million plan that would convert the Lamplighter into 22 fully-contained apartments. There would also be a community center and green space in the middle of the complex.

The apartments would be about 350 square feet, and each would have its own kitchen and bath. Snow said 11 of the 22 units would be set aside for local homeless people. The other 11 would be for the general population that met Housing Trust income guidelines.

The Lamplighter project is part of what Snow and Groundworks Collaborative executive director Josh Davis call the Permanent Supportive Housing model. It combines housing with on-site services designed to build independent living and tenancy skills, while connecting tenants to community-based health care, treatment, and employment services.

Supportive housing

As part of their research for the project, Snow said she and Davis went to Hartford, Connecticut, where a national nonprofit called the Corporation for Supportive Housing has managed a supportive housing complex in that city for more than a decade.

Since 1993, the Connecticut unit of the Corporation for Supportive Housing says it has created more than 2,000 units of supportive housing. Davis said the supportive model has been proven to reduce homelessness and increase housing stability.

“The goal is to get people out of crisis and into long-term housing,” Davis said. “There are no preconditions for moving in.”

Davis said studies have shown that when people are given a roof over their heads first, they are more able to tackle other life challenges, like getting sober, keeping a job, or being proactive about their mental health. Such support also lowers public costs by reducing the use of publicly-funded crisis services, including shelters, hospitals, and psychiatric centers.

“The support services are voluntary, but they are more likely to be used when they are on-site where people live,” he said. “If an issue comes up, they’re right there.”

Snow said another benefit of this model is that it cuts down on the expense of paying for individuals and families to live long-term in motels.

Davis said that Groundworks Collaborative would provide services involving life skills, homeless follow-up, and budgeting, while Health Care Rehabilitation Services would offer counseling related to mental health and substance abuse.

There would be no limit to how long residents could stay in their apartments and get help from supportive services.

Making the change

The Lamplighter Inn was built in 1955 and originally was home to a steakhouse where Panda North restaurant resides today.

The motel has been owned by Michael Lacroix, a Brattleboro-area landlord, since 1985.

The Housing Trust is in the process of buying the motel complex on the west side of Putney Road, Snow said, adding that the housing trust passed on buying what’s known as the Lamplighter Annex on the east side of Putney Road due to zoning concerns.

Snow said about 20 of the 24 current units at the main Lamplighter complex are in use at any given time. The rest are used for storage.

Of the 20 or so occupied units, Snow said most are rented by the week. Rents are $169 to $189 a week, depending on the size of the unit.

“A lot of working people are renting there,” she said. “They don’t have enough money to pay the first and last month’s rent, plus the deposit, to move into an apartment. So they’re spending $700 or $800 a month living in these units.”

About 4 to 5 units turn over every month, Snow said, so the number of people displaced by the project will be small. The Housing Trust would help them find alternative housing.

Finding any kind of apartment is difficult in Brattleboro, Davis said, because the vacancy rate is only about 1 percent, far below the 4-6 percent considered normal in a healthy rental market.

Opposition unlikely

The good news for this project, Snow said, is that given its location in a commercial area of Brattleboro, there isn’t expected to be opposition for siting supportive housing on that section of Putney Road.

Where is the funding going to come from?

Snow said she hopes the town will back the Housing Trust’s application for a $449,000 implementation grant through the Vermont Community Development Program.

She said further funding assistance is expected to come from the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Affordable Housing Program, and the Vermont Housing Conservation Board.

Even with the change in leadership in Montpelier and Washington, Snow said she felt confident that the Lamplighter project would get funding.

“We’ll know by March if this is a go,” she said. “There is a competitive process for getting some of this money, but I’m optimistic that we will get funding and, if we do, we hope to start work by August.”

Davis said he “can’t be more excited” about this project. “I’m a huge fan of anything that can bring more housing units on line,” he added.

Snow shares that excitement. “This model has had so much proven success elsewhere,” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #388 (Wednesday, December 21, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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