BENNINGTON -- The Select Board voted four to two in favor of supporting a grant that will allow a non-profit housing corporation to build a 24-unit housing project near Silver Street.
"We are planning to build 24 units of newly constructed, affordable workforce housing in Bennington at the site of what is now known as the Appleridge Condominiums," said John Broderick, executive director of Shires Housing, formerly known as the Regional Affordable Housing Corp.
Shires Housing is applying for a community development block grant which requires the town be the primary applicant with the housing group being the sub-applicant.
Broderick said in a later interview that the grant request is for $700,000 from the Vermont Community Development Program, which allocated federal funds to housing projects. The total project cost is about $5.5 million. Other funding sources being sought are tax credits awarded by the Vermont Housing Financing Agency which are then sold to private investors, and a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which Shires Housing can apply to directly.
The group should know by June if all of its funding sources have been approved. Broderick said construction would begin in October or November and be completed in the following year.
The land is currently owned by Applejack Real Estate, said Broderick, but Shires has entered into an option agreement with it. Applejack was able to place 10 condominium units on the site but was permitted for 38. Shires Housing, if it secures funding, will purchase the undeveloped land.
At the meeting, Broderick said the project is income-limited based on the national median income, which right now would limit it to people making between $26,000 and $36,000 per year.
Broderick later clarified statements he made at the meeting by saying that those paying rent with Section 8 housing benefits would not be turned away and their benefits would be counted as income.
Voting against the block grant request were board members Justin Corcoran and John McFadden. Both wanted more information about the occupancy rates on private apartment rentals and whether or not projects like this would artificially lower rents in town thereby making it difficult for private landlords to keep their facilities maintained.
"I also know there's about 30 multi-family homes on the market right now and for some reason they aren't able to sell their multi-family homes," said McFadden. "What I'm wondering is if this artificially allows a developer to have 24 units that have lower rents than they would for someone else out trying to buy a property."
Board Chairman Joseph Krawczyk Jr. had said there is a need for workforce housing, as evidenced by the last Shires Housing project, which filled up in three months.
"What I'm afraid of is that we're artificially lowering this by giving a grant to a developer when we already have 30 properties on the market that can't be sold because apparently it's not a good business position for landlords," McFadden said.
"I've heard from a number of private property owners, multi-unit property owners, who are concerned about how this is going to have an effect on their property values and the fact that they're having properties available that they can't rent currently," said Corcoran. "It does concern me that were are potentially creating an artificial market."
Many private rental units are considered blighted, according to Broderick. "I can't speak to the occupancy rate of multiple family housing that's privately owned, but I can just say anecdotally what people find when they go out there and try to look for an apartment is that it's high rent and low quality," he said.
Shires Housing's previous endeavors have been rehabilitating old units with little new construction, he said.
"We've been in a slump. Hopefully our town is turning around and people are moving here and people are coming here to work, and if our economic development efforts are successful we'll need the increase in housing in the coming years," Broderick said. "We're not building for today, we're building for the future and I think the town has a future here."
Board member Jim Carroll said the town plan has projected a need for residential housing.
"I know at least for or five people that work here, have decent jobs, who have looked at investing in the town whether it be buying houses or buying investment properties to get rentals going, and I'll tell you right now I'm one of them," said McFadden. "And looking at this right now I would consider selling my building and my investment in the town to rent for $600 because of how small it is in comparison to the properties that are out there in general."
Broderick said the application needs to be filed before April 9, which would be before the board's next meeting. McFadden and Corcoran said had wanted the matter tabled so they could get more information. They and others board members asked to be given more advance notice in the future.
It was agreed that Broderick would work to get McFadden and Corcoran the answers they requested, however Assistant Town Manager Dan Monks said the town and the Bennington County Regional Commission are nearly ready to present a large housing study. "We should have a pretty comprehensive housing studying with all the information you folks are looking for in two months, if that," Monks said.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.