Shires Housing, NeighborWorks receive grants for housing projects

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BENNINGTON — The governor's office has announced the awarding of $2.8 million in Community Development Grants, two of which will go to local projects.

One grant of $250,000 will go to the town of Bennington to partner with NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, which will pilot a program to help small-scale rental property owners increase the availability and quality of downtown affordable housing. A second, of $375,000, will go to the town of Arlington, and will help Shires Housing and Housing Vermont to rehabilitate 22 units across seven buildings in Arlington, Shaftsbury, and Bennington.

"While targeted to the needs of lower income Vermonters, community development block grants address the needs of communities and represent a true partnership between the federal, state, and local government," Josh Hanford, deputy commissioner for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said in a press release.

NeighborWorks of Western Vermont was founded in 1986, as Rutland West Neighborhood Housing Services. Its services have expanded in the years since to cover all of Rutland, Addison, and Bennington counties. The organization came before the Bennington Select Board last July to request help in applying for $500,000 from the CDBG program to better expand its services.

"We started working in Bennington County in about 2004. Our programs, primarily, can be defined as the support services, the one-stop-shop, that encourages, and enables, and supports, and maintains homeownership," Ludy Biddle, executive director for NeighborWorks, said at the time. "We started with a repair program using CDBG funds for low income households to make repairs. What we've added along the way are a number of education services ... our hope is to serve Bennington County better." She said at the time that the county only receives about 17 percent of what NeighborWorks offers.

In an interview on Wednesday, Biddle said the grant will allow them to set up an office in Bennington with permanent, full-time staff. She said her organization was looking into sharing office space with Shires Housing.

"I think it's great that Bennington is getting a bite of that shiny, red apple, and we're excited to be a part of it," Biddle said.

Shires Housing, headquartered in Bennington, is a non-profit organization that works to provide affordable housing options for limited-income county residents. It currently operates 225 rental units — 36 in Manchester, 38 in Arlington, and 151 in Bennington. Executive Director Stephanie Lane said the project will focus on properties on Battenkill Lane in Arlington, Route 67 in Shaftsbury, and Safford Street and Pleasant Street in Bennington.

The state awards approximately $7 million annually in competitive grants through the state's Department of Housing and Community Development. The grants are funded through the federal Community Development Block Grant Program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Amazing people are working hard every day to improve the lives of Vermonters and the communities we call home, and I can't thank them enough," said Governor Peter Shumlin, who announced the awarding of the grants at a press conference in front of the Bradley House in Brattleboro on Wednesday. The historic structure will receive $450,000 as part of the announced grants, which will help toward its $5.3 million renovation project. The building is currently used as a home for low-income seniors.

"Each community in Vermont has qualities that make it distinct, and as a result each has different needs," U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a press release. "The beauty of the CDBG program is that its flexible nature allows the State to use these federal funds to advance projects that are important to growing the economies of local communities. All of these projects will have a positive impact on the lives of Vermonters."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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