BENNINGTON – One rainy afternoon in early December, Bruce Bird was sitting in his studio, listening to a radio show. Through the glass windows that dominated two walls of the ground floor residence, he could see people coming and going in downtown Bennington.
Clothes and bedding were piled up in a corner of the room, around an open suitcase. At the kitchen counter, a framed photograph of her late partner sat on a stack of documents.
Sitting in a wooden rocking chair, Bird, 79, seemed to be relishing his new home. After five months of what he described as “freezing or frying” in a local motel room, he was especially happy to have a working thermostat.
“I have the little adjustment right there, and I know how to use it,” Bird smirked, gesturing to the wall next to his mattress.
It was only his second day in the apartment, which he found thanks to a non-profit organization that helps homeless people. After his partner passed away this year and had to leave his home in Connecticut, Bird decided to return to his hometown.
But he had no place to stay in Bennington and initially relied on state motel bonds. “I couldn’t pay rent anywhere,” said the retiree.
Then, a Bennington apartment building at 219 Pleasant St., which had been undergoing a facelift since the summer of 2020, reopened.
Since the renovations involved some sort of federal subsidy, six of the building’s 11 apartments had to be designated as affordable housing. For 10 years, these homes would be specifically rented at lower rates to people earning 80% or less of county income. median income. The other apartments are rented at market price.
Private developers enter the scene
This project was the vision of Hale Resources, a property development and property management company in Bennington. In 2018, the company purchased the building – two merged historic houses that had been turned into 10 apartments – with the intention of rehabilitating it, using money from the Global Community Development Grant.
He received $ 918,000 of the federal grant in the same year, following an application on behalf of Hale by the government of the town of Bennington.
According to the state, which administers the grant, Hale Resources became the first for-profit company in Vermont to receive those federal dollars to renovate a historic structure into affordable housing units. The Community Development Block Grant was designed primarily to benefit low and moderate income individuals.
The National Agency for Trade and Community Development 2020-25 housing needs assessment shows that nearly 90,000 renter and owner households – more than a third of Vermont households – are burdened by their housing costs. This means that their monthly housing costs consume more than 30% of their income, the maximum level considered affordable for the average household. This leaves them with less money for other living expenses, which can lead to housing instability.
“Every entrepreneur tries to solve problems. We make a living by solving housing problems, ”said Zak Hale, co-partner at Hale Resources with his father, Jon Hale.
Because the property is historically significant, Hale Resources worked with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation to conserve the original buildings as much as possible. One of the original houses, facing rue Valentine, was built in 1874, according to application documents with the National Register of Historic Places. The other house, facing Pleasant Street, is said to have been built in 1901.
The renovation, which the Hales said involved an overhaul of the building’s layout, resulted in a studio, nine one-bedroom units and a two-bedroom residence.
During a tour of the building this week, Jon Hale and Zak Hale highlighted some of the century-old accessories: stairs, wooden doors, windows, glass and woodwork.
They talked about uncovering artifacts from the attic and basement, and finding the original ceiling covered with acoustic ceiling panels and other old doors behind plasterboard.
The community development block grant covered most of the $ 1.6 million renovation costs, the Hales said. Without federal financial assistance, said Jon Hale, development would have taken his company at least a decade.
The Hales said they also invested $ 573,000 of their business money in the project, including $ 285,000 to purchase the property. They hope to recoup some of their other upfront costs through tax credits.
Long term impact
Shannon Barsotti, director of community development for Bennington, said the project had not only improved the city’s housing stock and preserved a historic property, but also helped redevelop a part of the city center that had seen struggles. better days.
“I think these kinds of transformative projects have that ripple effect on the neighborhood,” she said.
On top of that, officials said 219 Pleasant St. shows that public-private partnerships can lower the overall cost of developing affordable housing.
Each apartment renovated by Hale cost an average of $ 145,000. By comparison, said Bennington City spokesperson Jonah Spivak, similar units developed in the nonprofit sector average between $ 230,000 and $ 330,000.
“The majority of rental housing in the state of Vermont is privately owned, so this is a great example of how a federal program like CDBG can help meet our housing needs in partnership with private landlords.” said Nathan Cleveland, community development specialist. for the Vermont Community Development Program, which administers the Community Development Block Grant.
Barsotti also credited Hale Resources for the continuation of the grant, which she said involves a significant amount of paperwork, government oversight and tracking. “They were really on top,” said Barsotti, who oversees Bennington’s grant applications and prepares progress reports.
She hopes more for-profit developers take on affordable housing projects, and Hale Resources can serve as a mentor.
The Hales had the same thought. They want to pave the way for more companies to do the same.
“We want to let people know that someone is doing this,” Jon Hale said.
In the meantime, he hopes their application for listing 219 Pleasant St., Bennington, on the National Register of Historic Places will gain federal approval.
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