ALGIERS — The walls of the new Algiers Village Housing apartments were freshly painted and still dotted with blue painter's tape marking areas of last-minute repairs. Visitors walked pristine floors of maple, and peered into closets – as yet bare.
After nearly 10 years of work, the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) cut the ribbon on its $4.5 million housing development on July 10.
The event also marked the completion of the “Algiers Triangle” master plan, a collaboration among the Friends of Algiers Village, the Town of Guilford, and WWHT.
Organizers noted the long-term project included renovating the Tontine apartment building, managed by the WWHT; reopening the Guilford Country Store; and extending the municipal water system six-tenths of a mile.
“None of this would have been possible without the collective participation of a host of individuals and organizations,” said WWHT Executive Director Connie Snow.
The Trust partnered with Housing Vermont, the Burlington-based nonprofit development company, to help fund and redevelop the 1.2-acre parcel.
Located at 71 and 91 Guilford Center Road in the Village of Algiers, the two-building, 17-unit development replaced a warehouse. The energy-efficient buildings include low-flow water fixtures, a wood pellet-fueled boiler heating system with oil back-up, and a 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system.
One duplex building contains one two-bedroom apartment and one three-bedroom apartment. The other three-story building contains eight one-bedroom and seven two-bedroom apartments. All have plenty of windows and closet space.
When the WWHT creates new housing it also aims to improve housing conditions, said Snow, explaining that these buildings' energy efficiency and superior materials require relatively less maintenance, which helps keep rents low.
“It's not a luxury to us,” she said.
She added that constructing beautiful buildings also ensures that host communities welcome WWHT developments.
Socio-economically mixed neighborhoods is part of the fabric of Vermont, said Snow.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., assisted in funding a portion of the municipal water system with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Other organizations backing the project included:
• TD Bank, which invested more than $3.1 million in federal housing tax equity and a construction loan.
• The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), which provided a $425,000 loan and $265,000 in HUD HOME funds.
• The Town of Guilford, which provided $510,000 through its Vermont Community Development loan fund.
• NeighborWorks America, a national network of more than 240 community development and affordable housing organizations, which provided $81,600.
• Proceeds from the sale of state tax credits provided $147,000.
• The Windham Regional Commission, which provided technical assistance and funding for site assessment and “brownfield” remediation work.
The Friends came through
The efforts of Friends of Algiers Village, which helped improve the triangle, were “nothing short of amazing,” said Snow.
Snow credited the all-volunteer group with the vision to revitalize the village in a smart way.
These citizens, she said, realized they had a choice: stand by and allow the depressed triangle to develop indiscriminately, or else shape the village's fate through planning and steady action.
The nonprofit Friends of Algiers Village purchased three of the five village parcels in 2005 in anticipation of the construction of affordable housing, the renovation of the Guilford Country Store, an expansion of the municipal water supply, additional green spaces, and the addition of a bus stop.
With the opening of the new affordable housing units, all the pieces of the plan fell together, said Snow.
“Thank you, Friends of Algiers Village, for your faith in us,” she said.
Eric Morse, president of the Friends of Algiers Village, said, “This is a real climax to a many-year effort.”
Morse said rehabilitating the village triangle started when the Friends' previous incarnation, Guilford Preservation Alliance, purchased the 22-acre Hannigan Land, a pasture, to create a green space buffer between Guilford and Brattleboro.
The members figured the rehabilitation project would take a year, Morse recalled with a laugh.
The town included the development of the triangle in its town plan years ago, said Friends of Algiers Village member and Guilford Selectboard member Anne Rider.
Prior to extending the municipal water system from where it ended at Commonwealth Dairy in Brattleboro, many of the residences in the triangle had failing wells.
The municipal water also enabled the installation of fire hydrants and water to the Guilford Community Church. This building serves as the town's emergency shelter.
Guilford taxpayers could not have afforded this development on taxes alone, she said.
Kathy Beyer, vice president for development at Housing Vermont, recalls seeing for the first time the warehouse parcel where the apartments now stand. She drove home thinking, “Are you crazy?” she said.
“Algiers Village is a home run in community development in-fill housing in the designated village center, re-use of a brownfield, a key contributor to the water line extension, and beautiful new affordable apartments, Beyer said.
According to VHCB executive director Gus Seelig, housing market forces would have axed a project like the Algiers Village Housing development. Small Vermont towns don't build 17-unit housing developments, he said.
But the Friends of Algiers and WWHT represent “an act of faith, an act of perseverance,” he said.
He added that he believes such multi-partner projects provide inspiration and a model to share that could usher in a new ruralism that conserves, preserves, and enhances similar communities.