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An architectural drawing of the Snow Block, which is being built by the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust on Flat Street in Brattleboro.

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Ground breaks for new housing

Housing Trust’s Snow Building will offer 23 apartments in downtown Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO—As someone who has worked inside a lot of job-site offices in his time running a construction company, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott was on familiar turf during his visit to Brattleboro on Oct. 23.

“I very much appreciate being in a job office where things get done,” Scott said during a news conference prior to a groundbreaking ceremony for the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust’s (WWHT) Snow Building on 29 Flat St.

Funding for the $7 million project includes $1.5 million from the state’s Housing for All Revenue Bond (HRB), which Scott proposed and was passed into law in 2017.

“We talk a lot about housing, the need for housing, and we’ve talked about it for probably the last two decades I was in the Legislature, but we don’t get off from the talk because we can’t agree as to who gets the housing,” Scott said. “So what I’m trying to do is focus on the goals. Let’s figure out a way to accomplish that. And we were able to do just that.”

The Snow Block also received about $5 million in housing tax credits administered by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, which were purchased by People’s United Bank. Federal funding includes $490,000 from the federal HOME Program and $292,178 from the National Housing Trust.

This is the latest of WWHT’s projects in the south end of downtown. The renovation of the Abbott Block on Canal Street, the restoration of the Wilder Building on Main Street after a devastating fire, and the apartments built atop the new Brattleboro Food Co-op are three of the signature projects of the housing trust over the past decade.

Now, add to that list a new apartment building that will have 23 apartments ranging from studio to two-bedroom units.

WWHT Executive Director Elizabeth Bridgewater said Youth Services will have an office on the first floor of Snow Block to provide resources to children and families, and four of the apartments will be occupied by Youth Services clients.

Five of the apartments will be reserved for individuals earning between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income, or up to $60,000 a year. Other apartments will be paired with a rental voucher from the Brattleboro Housing Partnership, making them affordable to those with more modest incomes.

Vermont Housing and Conservation Board Executive Director Gus Seelig, who has assisted on many of WHHT’s big projects over the years, praised the Brattleboro area as a place “that gets stuff done and figures out how to work together.”

He also noted that other communities around state are taking advantage of the HRB program and creating new housing opportunities in what he called “a super-tight housing market.”

And no market in Vermont is as tight as Brattleboro, which has a 0.5 percent rental vacancy rate, according to Bridgewater.

Seelig said there is a high demand for housing assistance in Vermont among families right at, or slightly above, the median income level.

“Incomes are not going up as fast as the cost of everything else,” he said.

Providing more affordable places to live is not just something that will help the state’s housing shortage, Selig said, but it also has a significant positive impact on the state’s economy.

“We are going to meet the goals that were set by the Legislature for 550 homes,” Seelig said, noting that there are 86 projects statewide receiving help through HRB. “It’s been a great partnership all over the state.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #483 (Wednesday, October 31, 2018). This story appeared on page A6.

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