WEST BRATTLEBORO—A longtime motel and restaurant at 78 South St. will become a new source of permanent housing and supportive services to individuals who now are sheltered in motels.
Dalem’s Chalet Inc. sold the property, with its almost 18 acres, to WWHT on Sept. 23 for $968,750.
Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) and Groundworks Collaborative last week jointly announced that both nonprofits are partnering on a new project to be called the Chalet, which will repurpose the longtime motel and restaurant into new housing resources.
In a news release, the two organizations called the project “a significant step towards ending homelessness in Brattleboro.”
WWHT purchased the Chalet with funding from the federal government via the CARES Act through the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, from NeighborWorks America, and from a private loan through Brattleboro Savings & Loan.
With an extensive portfolio in redevelopment, WWHT has been able to quickly line up contractors to renovate the building, as the funding must be used by the end of the year.
Individual rooms at the Chalet are being updated with new furniture, fixtures, flooring, and paint.
Renovations to the entire building include installation of a sprinkler system, a fire alarm system, and accessibility improvements in bathrooms. Exterior work includes making walkways and stairs compliant with current building codes and regrading parking lots.
The largest-scope items include installing new windows and doors to improve energy efficiency while working to maintain the historic charm of the property, which opened in 1964.
A pandemic problem
In March, the state of Vermont opened motel rooms as shelter to ensure everyone in the community could safely isolate and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The measures put a spotlight on a fuller picture of the need for housing across the region and the state.
State officials acted quickly to implement an expanded motel voucher system and made it available to every Vermonter who lacked shelter. CARES Act funding was used to negotiate lower nightly rates and effectively take over entire properties to house homeless individuals.
At the region’s height of the pandemic in March and April, Brattleboro housed more than 150 people in several area motels. Groundworks currently supports more than 100 people who are still living in motels.
In Brattleboro, this scramble for temporary shelter in the midst of a public health crisis showed the urgent need for more permanent, affordable housing.
The town ranks high in a number of areas due, in large part, to the extremely limited amount of affordable housing, with vacancies currently hovering around 1 to 1.5 percent.
That statistic would reflect a scenario where no apartments would be available on any given day.
Similar to what Groundworks has done with Great River Terrace, the supportive housing complex that opened in 2018 at the former Lamplighter Inn on Putney Road, the Chalet will become home to people coming out of the motel program and offer a safe, supportive place to distance physically while offering a stable foundation through permanent housing.
“A bright spot that should be celebrated in this pandemic is that we have interrupted homelessness as a foregone conclusion and have provided shelter across this state for everyone,” Groundworks Executive Director Josh Davis said in a news release.
“The Chalet project is an opportunity to get people into housing and provide services on site to ensure they remain successfully housed,” he added.
Davis said that the Chalet is more than a bricks-and- mortar project. It’s another example of the “three-legged stool” approach to reducing homelessness.
Such strategies include making available and funding housing units, offering rental subsidies to bridge the gap between the cost of rent and what a resident can afford to pay, and providing supportive services for residents who often are navigating complex mental- and/or physical-health issues.
WWHT and Groundworks Collaborative both describe a five-year track record of working together to deliver housing-based supportive services within both scattered-site and place-based models such as Great River Terrace.
A combination of 25 project-based and rapid-rehousing vouchers have been approved by the Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA) and the Vermont Agency of Human Services for The Chalet.
Davis said a number of individuals who temporarily live in motels already hold mobile vouchers, which means that they could be in housing today, except that no units are available.
This scenario highlights the ongoing shortage of affordable housing in Brattleboro.
Supportive services are the most integral piece to the success of this approach. Groundworks will be the lead service provider at The Chalet, offering on-site supportive services to residents seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Groundworks is also coordinating a quilted plan for case management provided by multiple service providers in the community to meet the comprehensive need for supportive services.
Case management will be contributed in-kind by participating agencies. Pathways Vermont, Health Care & Rehabilitative Services (HCRS), and Youth Services have all committed to providing case management coverage for the program.
Racing the clock
Because of the time-sensitive nature of the CARES Act funding, the project must be completed, with tenants occupying the property, by the end of the year.
The project has received support from the Vermont State Housing Authority, the Department of Corrections, Vermont Housing & Conservation Board and the generosity of private donors.
WWHT is also pursuing grant funding through human services grants offered through the town of Brattleboro and from several private and corporate foundation grants.
“We are so pleased to once again partner with Groundworks Collaborative to provide housing and supportive services to people who need it the most,” said WWHT Executive Director Elizabeth Bridgewater, “especially now, when it is abundantly clear that the health of our community is deeply connected with the health of every community member, everyone needs a safe place to call home.”
Bridgewater said that WWHT “was able to quickly respond to several opportunities to create new housing during this pandemic.”
This fall, WWHT also launched the Re-housing Recovery Program, which helps landlords create or rehabilitate rental units.
“These two initiatives are projected to create approximately 85-90 new housing opportunities by year end,” Bridgewater said.