Anything but compassionate and responsible

‘Unlike recent media spin, the controversy in Putney is not between those who care about these folks and those who don’t, but about what, precisely, constitutes authentic caring, safe homes, and fiscal responsibility’

Mark Borax, an international best-selling writer and astrologer, is a Putney resident.

Over recent months, local press has stirred the kind of controversy that sells newspapers regarding the so-called "affordable housing project" in downtown Putney.

But let's be clear: Regarding the need to house our indigent, at-risk, homeless, and poverty-stricken members of the community, there is little conflict here.

Most agree that these vulnerable members of society are desperately in need of safe, dependable homes that they can afford. Unlike recent media spin, the controversy is not between those who care about these folks and those who don't, but about what, precisely, constitutes authentic caring, safe homes, and fiscal responsibility.

The Windham-Windsor Housing Trust, the fifth-largest landowner in the county, recently purchased the land and professes to "care deeply about where you live, and how you live" - a noble claim that leaves many residents of existing WWHT facilities speechless.

Pending lawsuits make me think that once a WWHT facility goes up it might be easier to get blood from a stone than to get the corporation to listen to tenant complaints and take action.

Most WWHT buildings have no onsite management: No live-in superintendent, janitor, or building manager: every at-risk tenant is on their own.

The downtown Putney parcel wasn't zoned for housing this many people and was illegally driven through in defiance of public opinion. In fact, Josh Laughlin, who was co-owner of the parcel, actually was a Selectboard member! (Anyone see a conflict of interest here?)

While recent articles have painted the opposition to this project as heartless and uncaring, trying to make it seem as if Putney residents are against helping the poor, the truth is that a building full of at-risk folks hastily crammed into a project by a corporation known for unresponsive management, who is currently tangled up in court cases, in a town with few social services, no inexpensive groceries, and limited mass transit, next to a highway exit on an interstate known for high drug trafficking, is anything but compassionate and responsible.

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Proponents of the project insist it's economic and progressive, but its construction of 25 units on 0.9 acres tops out at $11.7 million, which breaks down to $468,000 per apartment - so outrageous as to be beyond belief.

Fortunately, the state of Vermont is offering a unique alternative to such pork-barrel projects. Any homeowner wishing to build low-cost housing in their own backyard will get a substantial grant - money that doesn't need to be paid back.

If we really care about the welfare of our most vulnerable members, we must rethink the long-term solutions for affordable housing and step up ourselves to provide it, rather than make billion-dollar corporations richer.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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