BENNINGTON — Officials on Wednesday celebrated the completion of Monument View Apartments, a 24-unit complex that will help address the town's shortage of affordable workforce housing.
Shires Housing co-owns the 24-unit Monument View Apartments in partnership with Housing Vermont, another nonprofit. Shires Housing acquired the site in 2017. The first move-in date is Aug. 1, and units are already being wait-listed.
"I think this is a wonderful day that's been a long time in the making," Stephanie Lane, executive director of Shires Housing, said before the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the apartments on Hilltop Drive. "This was a challenging project I hope we built you a beautiful project that the residents will love."
Approximately 50 people filled the white tent on the grounds of the complex as it began to rain just before 1 p.m. In attendance were various community members, local leaders and government officials, including State Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, Bennington Select Board member Jeanne Connor and town planning director Dan Monks.
Kathy Sollien, owner of Maple Leaf Realty in Bennington, said she couldn't wait for the apartments to be built.
"The rental market sucks in this town," she said. There's not enough housing stock, and what does exist is expensive and often in older homes, she said.
"You can hear today the housing affordability trend in Vermont is visible to everybody," said Nancy Owens, president of Housing Vermont. Short-supply, high-cost housing is a problem across the nation, she said. "We need to work on some systemic solutions."
"There is so much work to be done," said Elizabeth Morris, representing U.S. Rep. Patrick Welch. She noted that in Vermont, the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment is $22. These 24 units will make a dent in the need, Morris said.
Lane opened the event by thanking those involved in the project, including funding partners, staff and the construction team, including local workers, along with architect Steve Schenker of S2 Architecture in Shelburne and contractor Naylor & Breen Builders of Brandon.
As she was preparing her remarks, Lane said, she thought about what it is that makes a good neighborhood.
The answer, she said, is things like people who care about where they live, housing that is affordable, residents with mixed socioeconomic status, public transit and property managers who take care of their facilities.
"Based on that, I think we have a great recipe for success here at Monument View," she said.
The seven-building complex is located on Hilltop Drive off Silver Street in Bennington.
Twenty of the homes are targeted to households with annual incomes ranging from a maximum of $30,960 for a one-person household to $39,780 for a three-person household.
Four units are for households with annual incomes ranging from a maximum of $61,920 for a one-person household to $79,560 for a three-person household.
There are 16 two-bedroom units and eight one-bedroom units.
All ground floor apartments have a back door to the outside, and second floor apartments are designed with small balconies, according to Shires Housing. All ground floor apartments are also adaptable with accessible entrances, and each apartment has a dishwasher and washer/dryer hookups. The homes are also energy-efficient and built to last for at least 20 years without further capital investment, Lane said.
The initial round of funding applications for the private, not-for-profit project started back in 2013. The approximate total cost is $7.3 million; funding sources included a $4.5 million TD Bank Construction Loan and a Vermont Community Development Program loan through the town of Bennington, along with Vermont's Housing for All Revenue Bond (HRB) funds of $750,000.
The HRB funds enable income limits for the apartments to be higher than they usually would be, creating more of a mixed-income project, Lane said.
TD Bank is also investing another $4.6 million in the project through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, administered locally by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.
Several representatives from the project's funding partners spoke at Wednesday's event, offering their congratulations. Among them were Jennifer Hollar, director of policy and special projects at the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Josh Slade of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency and Gisele Kloeckner of TD Bank.
"It was kind of a long road to get here," Hollar said. There were many moments the project could have been lost, she said.
"I don't think there was ever a moment when any of the funding agencies wavered," she said. "Everybody had a hand in this. Congratulations and thank you."
In attendance were also representatives from the offices of Welch, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Bernie Sanders. They spoke about the systemic nature of housing access issues in Vermont and nationwide.
Pollaidh Major, of Leahy's office, cited a recently-released report that states a person working for minimum wage in Vermont would need to work over 80 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.
Monument View Apartments faced a long road to reach completion, with the project in the works for years.
Residents previously raised concerns that the project would put a strain on municipal services and affect the historic character of the neighborhood, so they appealed permits the project had received from the town's Development Review Board and the state Natural Resource Board under Act 250, the Banner previously reported.
In 2017, the Vermont Environmental Court upheld two permits for the apartments, meaning the project could move forward as planned.
Besides the appeal of the permits by residents, there was no other opposition to the project, Lane said. The funders "stuck with us and supported us" through the delays caused by the appeal process, she said.
"Once we started construction, things went very smoothly," she said. Construction began in March 2018.
Other than a couple of design changes regarding layout, the project basically stayed the same throughout the process, she said.
"We had an amazing development team, and the project was smooth, considering the size of it," she said.
Organizers are working on a few leftover "punch-list items" on the project, but they've achieved substantial completion and have their certificates of occupancy, Lane said.
There is a waitlist for units, but people are encouraged to apply, she said. Applicants who meet the criteria are considered on a first-come, first-served basis.
"I think we've created a really beautiful little neighborhood that really fits the character of the existing neighborhood," Lane said.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.