With friends like these...

To hear the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust described in disparaging terms says a great deal about the accusers and sheds light on their actions to prevent a housing/conservation plan from moving forward in Putney

PUTNEY — For 30 years, I've been a member of the Putney Friends, or Quaker, congregation. Thus, my curiosity was piqued, reading in The Commons about a local group named Friends of Putney, in regard to the proposal to build much-needed housing in Putney on Alice Holway Drive.

I wondered: Are they as dedicated to social justice work as Quakers/Friends? Were they walking in the same light as John Woolman when he started his abolition work in the mid-18th century - or continuing that work today on many social justice fronts, including a recent public statement urging reparations?

Upon further review, it seems not so much, as some of the group's members could be seen in this last election campaign going door to door for the Republican candidate for the Vermont House, supported by Vermonters for Good Government, a group formed and operated by members of Vermont Right to Life Committee and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. Other issues the VFGG candidate was against include climate action and vaccinations, all while calling for “more balance” in Vermont politics.)

I looked a bit further.

A Friends of Putney information sheet also accuses the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) of being a “Giant Corporate Monopoly.” Really? That's pretty extreme, as WWHT owns only 12% of the rental housing in Putney - hardly what I'd call a monopoly.

This is like describing Putney Foodshelf as a corporate monopoly because it's the only group in town feeding hungry Vermonters.

Or it is like saying Putney Mountain Association is a corporate monopoly because it's conserved hundreds of acres, making our town a conservation leader in Vermont.

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For the record, WWHT is one of the conservation and housing groups funded by the statewide Vermont Housing & Conservation Board. The VHCB is dedicated to balancing the complementary needs of preserving open space while creating more housing.

No surprise, then, that these two concerns are baked into the WWHT plan for Alice Holway Drive in Putney.

Right from the start, WWHT met with the Putney Farmers' Market and Community Garden people, to assure them they wanted to share the space in collaboration: conserving their spaces and creating housing during a housing shortage that's reached crisis level.

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To hear WWHT described in disparaging terms says a great deal about the accusers, and their words shed light on their actions to prevent this housing/conservation plan from moving forward.

It also leads to the question: Does Friends of Putney, as a nonprofit charitable corporation itself, meet the standards they're asking of others, and would local media dare to do a deep dive into its history?

In short, this group's kind of dog-whistle politics is no different from other not-in-my-backyard (“NIMBY”) folks across the nation. Seemingly feel-good euphemisms - ones that start with, “Of course, I support housing, but…” - are simply a thin mask for other-ing.

As important, there is another perspective to all this.

Last summer, when the WWHT plan was presented, a jointly written commentary from two candidates for the state Senate from Windham County - Nader Hashim and Wichie Artu - was published in The Commons. They both described what it was like for them trying to find housing locally, as people of color.

The article starts, “Two candidates for state Senate believe housing is a vital investment for people and the community,” and it concludes with a quote from Artu: “The not-in-my-backyard attitude is an unnecessary way to segregate and impoverish those who do not assimilate to others standards of wealth, religion, music, foods, etc.”

Vermont is a beautiful place to live. Its real beauty though, is in its people and our communities, in how it has welcomed generations of us who came here to make this region home. Why stop now?

The WWHT project offers us our chance to affirm the green development strategy in our village, to affirm our value of being a welcoming community, and to create new housing in our town while conserving land.


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