Developer addresses ‘areas of persistent confusion’

Windham-Windsor Housing Trust offers a response about Alice Holway Drive project in Putney

Elizabeth Bridgewater is executive director of the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, whose Alice Holway Drive apartment project in Putney is the subject of a series of appeals and lawsuits against the town regarding the project's approval process.

As the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and its co-developer Evernorth continue to plan for breaking ground on the Alice Holway Drive Development that will create 25 new rental homes in Putney, a lot of questions have been circulating about the project.

The first issue pertains to who is eligible to live in the new Alice Holway Drive homes and how they are selected.

These are two distinct components to the process, but they are both determined through the application process.

The first component - eligibility - is solely determined by the applicant's income. And because we serve households with a range of incomes, within the mix of the 25 homes, some apartments will have lower income eligibility limits, and some will have higher eligibility income limits, with these limits applied to each apartment size.

This mixed-income approach is designed to meet the housing needs of households with a variety of income levels. The income ranges at Alice Holway Drive are $34,400 for a single person and up to $88,400 for a family of three.

The income limits that determine eligibility are based on a percentage of area medium income (AMI) and were determined during the planning process. While the percent of AMI hasn't changed and won't change, the actual income used to determine eligibility will fluctuate from year to year as area medium income rises or falls.

There is no wait list for this new property and applications will become available when construction is near completion.

The second component comes after eligibility is determined. Applicants are processed through a resident selection protocol that includes reference checks, a credit report review, and a determination of whether the applicant can afford to pay the rent for the apartment for which they qualify.

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Another area of persistent confusion is whether this project was designed exclusively to provide homes to community members who are currently homeless. The answer to this is no.

Alice Holway Drive is not designed as a Permanent Supportive Housing community, a model that offers programming and on-site supportive services to residents who have experienced chronic homelessness. The only two permanent supportive housing sites in Windham County are both in Brattleboro.

Instead, Alice Holway Drive is designed to meet a variety of housing needs in the community, including for those at the very low end of the income spectrum.

As such, five apartments have been designated for community members with very low incomes who are at risk of homelessness, and they all have project-based vouchers attached to them which will pay a portion of the resident's rent. These apartments are built to the same specifications and quality as all the other apartments in the project.

All residents at Alice Holway Drive will have access to services through a collaboration with SEVCA and WWHT's SASH (Support and Services at Home) for All Team, which provides community programming and individual support with a focus on health and well-being, community building, and housing retention.

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Questions have also come up about our co-developer, Evernorth. People want to know who they are and what role they play in the community.

Evernorth, previously known as Housing Vermont, is a nonprofit organization that provides extra capacity to Vermont community development organizations like the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust. In its 35-year history of working in Vermont, Evernorth has co-developed more than 120 communities throughout the state, including the Exner Block and the Howard Block in Bellows Falls, the apartments above the Brattleboro Food Co-op, and the Noyes House and Putney Landing Apartments in Putney.

Evernorth has decades of experience in real estate development finance and helps identify and secure equity investments for the projects it co-develops.

Admittedly, this tax credit program is complicated. Essentially, the equity funds from investors pay for the construction, and their return comes not from rents paid by tenants, but from tax credits allocated to the project.

This isn't unique to Alice Holway Drive or Vermont. This is a federal program that Congress created in 1986 to incentivize private investment in new housing production to minimize the use of taxpayer dollars for this purpose.

Investors include community banks like Brattleboro Savings & Loan, Mascoma Bank, and Passumpsic Bank. Regional banks include TD Bank and M&T Bank (formerly People's United Bank).

One thing unique to Vermont: WWHT, Evernorth, Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, and the Vermont Housing Finance Agency have all played critical roles in ensuring that public investments go toward affordability in perpetuity.

Instead of allowing for the affordability clause to expire after 15 years - which is allowed and happens elsewhere in the country - it is protected in deed restrictions and covenants and continues as a stabilization resource and protects the community against the volatile market prices.

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We see a lot of interest across the state to solve the housing crisis through in-fill development and private efforts. We applaud this approach and firmly believe that private property owners play a critical role in addressing the housing crisis.

This is why we elected to implement the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (VHIP), which provides grants to private property owners who are either creating a new home or rehabbing an apartment that is not occupied.

This all-hands-on-deck approach, with every strategy employed to create more homes, is exactly what we need to move us toward a more sustainable future.

We are delighted to be in the final stages of pre-construction for Alice Holway Drive, and we look forward to the fourth appeal of this project being resolved.

These homes will be energy efficient and will use sustainable sources like solar power and ground-source heat pumps to generate the electricity and heat for the building.

Most importantly, however, is that community members seeking a new home will have a wonderful new opportunity in Putney.

This Voices Response was submitted to The Commons.

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