BENNINGTON — Shires Housing has gained town support in planning an infrastructure upgrade and the replacement of four homes at its Willows Mobile Home Park with zero-energy use modular structures.
The Select Board has approved allowing Shires to begin a grant application for Vermont Community Development Program Implementation Grant funding for the project. The town would be the grantee for the funds, and Shires the sub-grantee.
“We are applying for $375,000 to assist with infrastructure work at the site, including updating the underground pipes and repaving the site,” Shires Executive Director Stephanie Lane said in an email this week. “We will be removing three abandoned mobile homes and replacing the foundations and adding four Zero Energy Modular homes in their place.”
Regarding the new homes, Shires is partnering with Efficiency Vermont and the Vermont Energy Investment Corp.
Efficiency Vermont senior consultant Peter Schneider said the entity is “working with affordable housing partners and the state to identify opportunities to revitalize mobile home parks and add more affordable new homes to these communities.”
He told the Select Board March 8 that the current mobile home replacement program “grew out of Tropical Storm Irene,” when many homes and other buildings were swept away or damaged by severe flooding, which took a significant toll on mobile homes.
Schneider said more than 150 replacement homes have been provided since the 2011 storm, both to replace homes in mobile home parks and mobile homes on privately owned lots.
Mobile homes, Schneider said, provide “critical affordable housing,” and “the state as a whole is looking to redevelop mobile home parks” across Vermont.
Schneider said in an email that Shires Housing will be purchasing the homes from a zero-energy modular builder, KBS Homes, which is based in Maine.
“Shires Housing is participating in Efficiency Vermont’s Residential New Construction program, which provides services throughout the project such as technical advice and incentives at completion which help reduce the cost of the energy efficiency measures,” he said. “The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has also invested in this project to help reduce the cost of the housing units for Shires Housing.”
The ZEM homes range in cost from $100,000 to $250,000, depending on the size, he said, adding that “affordable housing partners have also made a number of subsidies available for income-qualified buyers as well that can further reduce the cost of a home.”
In this project, Shires will be replacing older homes in the Willows park that were abandoned by owners and acquired over time by the housing non-profit, which manages the park off Northside Drive with an entrance between Pizza Hut and Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Once the new energy efficient homes are in place, we are planning to rent them to income-eligible households,” Lane said. “We are hoping to kick off the project in July.”
The modular homes will be two- or three-bedroom units, with the homes designed to fit the lot sizes. Schneider said the homes will exceed building code requirements, including for energy efficiency, and will include such features as heat pumps, battery storage units and solar panels on the roof.
The homes will arrive 95 percent complete, he said, and ready for connection to utilities.
Schneider said Efficiency Vermont is working to provide more homes to the Southern Vermont region over the coming year.
In October 2019, Efficiency Vermont brought a zero-energy model home to both Pownal and Bennington to provide information about this housing approach and discuss opportunities to collaborate.
“Many of the discussions that started at the ‘ZEM on Tour’ are leading to opportunities to deploy more ZEM homes in the area,” he said.
Schneider added that, “Vermont Energy Investment Corp. is a non-profit [corporation], and our mission is really to reduce the long-term and immediate costs of energy. And we provide services internationally. One of our larger contracts is Efficiency Vermont, which is the state of Vermont’s energy efficiency utility.”
Efficiency Vermont is electricity ratepayer funded, through an energy service fee on bills.