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BENNINGTON — The first of three abandoned, run-down properties was unveiled to the community on Wednesday, with first-time homeowners as the occupants.

Southwestern Vermont Health Care and The Bank of Bennington established Healthy Homes for Bennington L3C to revitalize single-family homes in downtown neighborhoods.

Employees of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Russell Carrier and Leah Hart are slowly adapting to their newly renovated home on Park Street with their 10-month-old baby.

"The purpose of this initiative is really something SVHC was the founding partner of, it was two-fold," SVHC CEO Thomas Dee said. "The idea was to help in terms of creating a healthier Bennington where we would go and look for homes that are distressed homes, maybe vacant or in foreclosure and we would try, in cooperation with the bank and town to highlight these homes and acquire these and renovate them. There's been a lot of research done how healthy environments impact the health of family members. It's tied into the socio-economics."

The idea behind the organization is that families thrive and live healthier lives in a safe living environment. Another property on County Street has already started to undergo renovation, and a site on Spring Street is next in line.

Over a four month period, Hale Resources, LLC., repaired the foundation, sills and roof and installed a new furnace; baseboard heaters; all electrical wiring; plumbing; bathroom fixtures; interior walls; floors; kitchen cabinets and appliances; lighting; windows; doors; trim and siding; and paint.

It consists of two bedrooms, a master bedroom suite, and three bathrooms. The back part of the house that used to store wood, had to have the foundation lifted and was transformed into the master suite. The basement is unfinished with a dirt/gravel floor.

Healthy Homes will give SVHC employees the first opportunity to apply for the renovated properties, but could expand to folks in the community if no one is seen fit.

Hart has been employed at the hospital for eight years and Carrier for seven years.

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Carrier said the hospital had an open house when the renovation was finished and they decided to apply.

"Yeah, we've always rented," he said. "We'll have no problem maintaining it, it was just coming up with down payments and additional costs. The hospital definitely made it all possible."

Application requirements include being a first-time homebuyer with good financial standings. Once accepted the applicant must take a state sponsored homebuyers course, said Kevin Dailey, vice president of SVHC human resources.

"People come to us, we drive around and we look at the delinquent tax list," he said. "We look at foreclose property lists. It's not terribly hard to find houses. They have to be smaller because we want these to be affordable. These are houses that nobody else wants."

This property is appraised at $140,000.

The Park Street home was bought directly from the owner, Dailey said. The owner walked away from it and left it vacant for about nine months. The other homes, on County and Spring Streets, were purchased at a foreclosure auction.

Most of the renovations will happen in the adjacent neighborhoods, Dailey added.

"We got three already, we're going to stay focused in this quadrant until we run out of opportunities because if we concentrate in an area, it will be very visible," Dailey said. "If we do 10 or 15 houses in this area, it will be very visible."

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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