Game changer
Ike Leslie signs the paperwork in order to be reimbursed by Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing.

Game changer

Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing’s Apartments-in-Homes program expands options for local renters and homeowners

BRATTLEBORO — In 2003, Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing (BAAH) looked at two growing housing problems: shortage of decent rental housing affordable to low-income people, and homeowners' difficulty keeping their homes in the face of rising costs.

It struck us that there could be a way to address both problems together: help the homeowner create an apartment.

With our Apartments-in-Homes program, we have helped homeowners create more than 50 apartments - most in houses, but others in garages or barns.

BAAH provides technical help, often some hand-holding, and after the apartment has been completed, up to $5,000 toward the costs of construction. Responsibility for the construction is entirely the homeowner's. The grant amount is based on 50% reimbursement of actual costs up to $10,000.

This is the cheapest way we know to produce new housing. And it is energy- and land-efficient. Recent Vermont legislation encourages the development of apartments in homes.

Following are two stories that illustrate how the program has expanded options for homeowners and renters alike.

* * *

When John Everest and his wife separated, he found himself in a difficult place.

“I was in quite a quandary,” Everest said. “I was left with a house, but I couldn't afford the mortgage.”

Leksy Bell had a different problem. The pandemic had left her without a place to live. She wanted to do an internship at Antioch University New England in Keene but couldn't find an apartment in the area that was both affordable and would permit her to have her dog.

“People need their pets,” says Bell, who looked in a number of towns but just couldn't find a place that fit her needs.

“Good people are having a hard time [now]. It feels really dehumanizing,” she says of the search.

Meanwhile, Everest had learned that money was available to help him build an apartment in his Brattleboro home. He decided to look into it. He found out that Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing (BAAH) would provide $2,000 for the construction of an apartment that would meet all building codes, and the town of Brattleboro would pitch in an additional $3,000.

That funding made the project something that Everest could afford, but he says BAAH offered him more than just the money: Two members of the organization's board who both work in construction looked at the spare space in the home, and they offered Everest design assistance, and the confidence to move forward.

Bell found Everest's apartment listed on Furnished Finder, a website that matches landlords with apartment seekers. The site worked well for Everest because it did the screening.

“It was a big game changer for me,” says Bell, who liked the apartment and could afford the rent.

Everest was OK with the dog. Now he has additional income from the rental.

“It made so much sense. I'm able to pay my bills and the mortgage,” says Everest, who admits that “I never thought of myself as a landlord.”

* * *

Isaac (Ike) Leslie (they/them) and their partner were looking for a farm to buy so they could redefine the family farm in a larger way. They wanted it to be a “chosen-family farm,” where a group of LGBTQ+ people could be connected by their shared interest in farming and in living rurally as their authentic selves.

“Neither of us had any capital,” Leslie says. Just putting together enough money to purchase 21 acres and a farmhouse in Athens was “a real stretch for both of us.”

The two were able to purchase the property just before prices skyrocketed in 2020, and Leslie set about partitioning the old house into three apartments. They built an apartment for themselves and another for a farmer friend. But they didn't have enough funds remaining to renovate the second floor for a third apartment, even with Ike doing the work.

Ike doesn't remember how they found out about Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing and about our mission to increase housing in the greater Brattleboro area. Our Apartments in Homes program provided $5,000 for the third apartment, which they have just completed.

“Farm workers often live in substandard housing,” Leslie says. Now they are preparing to welcome another farmer who would like to enjoy the comfortable second-floor digs - and be a part of a growing family.

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