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alexA Perfect Fit: BFC’s Collaboration with Our Housing Partners

by Alex Gyori
May 2012

As we close in on the end of the construction phase of our Redevelopment Project, it is a perfect time to tell the story of our seamless and quite productive collaboration with our housing colleagues at the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT), and Housing Vermont. We have featured them in this issue of Food For Thought, but you might like to hear more about how it all worked.

Early on in BFC’s planning process, and particularly at the Stone Soup charrette, when we were sounding out stakeholders from all around the community about how to reinvent our Co-op, the idea of including housing was a clear favorite. We got the message, and asked Bread Loaf Corporation, who had led the charrette as part of the feasibility study, to insert housing into their sketches. They prepared several different concepts and added cost estimates. The price tag was splash of cold water. It was evident that BFC couldn’t go it alone financially, and besides, managing housing was low on our wish list.  Instead of dropping the idea completely, we simply set it aside and finished our feasibility study, focusing only on the Co-op.

Once we had settled on our own feasible plan, we dusted off the housing idea and looked around for an existing housing promoter to explore possibilities with us. We didn’t have to look far! Connie Snow, executive director at the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, was immediately intrigued by our offer, and before long she had a feasibility study under way.

The early stage of their study was determining limitations and agreements to be made with the Co-op. In other words, were there any deal breakers? We provided them with a baker’s dozen of conditions, the most prominent among them that the Co-op parking lot would not be available for tenant parking. A mild surprising to us, parking was not an issue. Many of the housing trust’s tenants don’t own cars, and those that do manage to find a place to keep their vehicles.

WWHT was soon joined by Housing Vermont, an agency based in Burlington, and together with the two organizations we drew up a fairly complex development agreement, detailing the guidelines by which we would design, pay for and manage our joint venture. The document was many months in the making, but decisions were made and agreements decided without a huge amount of back-and-forth. This easy working relationship stemmed largely from the vast experience that the two housing entities already had, plus the fact that we all have similar visions about service to our local communities.
After the development agreement was set, we had to dovetail our funding timelines, which gave rise at times to a fair bit of anxiety. For example, some of the housing funding was subject to specific deadlines for disbursement of the approved funding, so the timing of the project itself became a factor. To cut a very long story short, it all worked out in the end.

Imagine this– on top of everything else, there are three project managers, each one representing one of the three owners: Isaac Wagner works on the project for the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, Housing Vermont has Amy Dohner, and we have Tom Appel. All three are veterans of many projects in our region. Their combined experience has been invaluable in meeting the many challenges of our highly complex undertaking.

It has been a great pleasure to work with our housing colleagues on this project. It has afforded us an opportunity to combine the spirit of the 6th Cooperative Principle, Cooperation among Cooperatives, with the 7th Principle, Concern for Community, in a real and meaningful way. The result is a new, long-term relationship with our housing partners, stronger ties with another local organization, and a shared vision of a livable, healthy, and sustainable downtown.