by Andee Bingham
Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) has worked for the past 25 years to provide something so vital and basic to Brattleboro and our surrounding communities – affordable housing and accessible home ownership opportunities. Executive Director Connie Snow has been with WWHT since the beginning, when it was simply a community rallying to preserve 14 affordable apartments on Canal Street that were to be torn down to make room for a convenience store. “They were largely affordable by virtue of their dilapidated condition,” Connie remembers. “But they were affordable apartments where people could pay the rent. [We] felt like we couldn’t afford to lose that housing.” The hard work paid off, the buildings were spared, and a seedling of WWHT (then called Brattleboro Area Community Land Trust) was born. Their first project was to buy and renovate those 14 apartments, which still stand today, only blocks from the Co-op.
The mission of WWHT is to enhance the quality of life of low- and moderate-income citizens, to preserve and revitalize neighborhoods, to foster diversity, and to improve the social, economic, and cultural health of communities in Windham and Windsor counties. “A lot of what distinguishes a land trust or housing trust is that we don’t displace people,” explains Connie. “We improve housing conditions for the people who already live [there]. We will buy a building and move the families out temporarily, and then when the renovations are done, those same families will have the first option to move back in.” In the past decade, WWHT has expanded their vision of how to provide affordable housing. Buying and renovating somewhat rundown buildings certainly improves the quality of life for many in our community, but it doesn’t necessarily add to the housing stock and actually create new homes. Since this shift, WWHT has built several new units, including homes in Dover and the apartments above the new Co-op. They also created the Daly Shoe building, which is an adaptive reuse of a manufacturing warehouse on Birge Street that now houses 29 apartments as well as the WWHT offices.
When the Co-op approached WWHT about teaming up to create a multi-use building, Connie was excited because it offered the rare opportunity to add to the housing stock of downtown and to provide mixed-income apartments near the heart of many jobs and services. WWHT jumped on board with the help of Housing Vermont, a statewide entity that creates permanently affordable rental housing through partnerships with local organizations like WWHT. The 24 new apartments above the Co-op will range from deeply subsidized to “market rate,” creating housing opportunities for a diverse range of people with varying incomes. Given that there is no yard on site for children, WWHT saw this building as an opportunity to serve the growing number of single renters in Brattleboro and will feature mostly one-bedroom apartments (with a handful of efficiencies and two-bedrooms). The rents will all include heat and hot water, which will be mostly provided by an innovative system that will capture and repurpose heat lost by the Co-op’s refrigeration units.
“We think the fact that more people will be living in the upper story of downtown will make the area more vital,” says Connie. “You’ve got lights on at night, above the downtown stores. You’ve got people walking up the street to a restaurant. That’s what we’re excited about.” Throughout history there have been many buildings on that curve of Main Street, and both WWHT and the Co-op are excited to restore the historic streetscape, which will add continuity to lower Main Street and open access to the Whetstone Brook. “People seem excited about the new building,” Connie says. “They’re curious about the apartments and the new store.” The collaboration with the Co-op, she says, “has made all of these benefits possible. Alex and his management team are savvy and talented! It has just been an absolute pleasure to work with them. We’re really grateful to the Co-op for including us in such an amazing project. We are thrilled to be a part of it!”
Stop by the Co-op on Friday, May 18th, between 11:30–1:30pm to learn more about WWHT! Also visit their website at www.w-wht.org.