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Archive - Oct 23, 2008 - Page

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Date

'Overflow' homeless shelter sought for county

By JOHN FLOWERS

VERGENNES — Local advocates for the homeless are searching for one or more “overflow” shelters to accommodate what they believe could be a record number of people out in the cold in Addison County this winter.

The overflow shelter(s) are part of an emergency response plan for homelessness that leaders of the John Graham Emergency Shelter are putting together for the coming months, when people now living in cars and tents must find warmer quarters.

Meanwhile, advocates in other Vermont counties are also working on their own emergency response plans, which they hope will garner some state funding when Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Committee convenes next month.

The state’s shelters have already seen a increase of 10 to 20 percent in clients compared to the same time last year, according to Elizabeth Ready, executive director of the John Graham Emergency Shelter on Vergennes.

The helpline Vermont 2-1-1 received approximately 2,400 calls last month from people inquiring about food, lodging and fuel, Ready noted.

“Basically, there is a sense that we don’t known what’s going to happen this winter,” Ready said.

Ready gives the John Graham Shelter board regular updates on the numbers of people seeking services. Recent updates indicate that the shelter has been unable to meet demand, even with a new transitional housing project on East Street (see story, Page 1A).

The John Graham shelter current refers homeless people it cannot accommodate to other shelters in Chittenden or Rutland counties. In some cases, overflow clients are put up in area motels where they unfortunately don’t have access to support services.

full story

Connor Homes hit by layoffs

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — After several years of rapid expansion, Middlebury-based Connor Homes has scaled back operations and trimmed staff as business slows in the current economic downturn.

About 50 people now work for the homegrown company, which specializes in colonial reproduction “kit” homes assembled in the 115,000-square-foot Route 7 building that is the former home of Standard Register.

That means the employee base is down around 20 from just the past spring, when Connor Homes officials reported booming business even as the national housing market was slumping. Officials back in May said that sales had tripled during the previous year.

But Connor Homes Chief Operating Officer Holly Kelton confirmed on Tuesday that many prospective customers have been putting their orders on hold in view of recent events on Wall Street.

“In September, a number of our customers decided to postpone production of homes,” Kelton said. “We have temporarily scaled back operations.”

Connor Homes began restructuring at its plant in August, Kelton said, replacing some of its workers with others who had different “skill levels.” She said the company started reducing its employee base last month, primarily in the design and production departments.

Gabe McGuigan of Brandon worked as an architect designer at Connor Homes until he was let go in July. McGuigan said he noticed times getting tougher when fewer orders for average-sized homes (around 2,000 square feet) were being taken on by work crews. That left smaller projects — like sheds and garages — or larger homes that were not as profitable to the company, according to McGuigan.

“The drop began at the end of June and went on from there,” said McGuigan, who added the company at one point had to shut down the shop “for a couple of weeks because there was nothing to do.”

full story

Local housing prices holding steady

By ANDY KIRKALDY

ADDISON COUNTY — Despite nationwide gloom and doom in the real estate sector and a drop in home sales in Vermont and Addison County, there is evidence that the values of the homes that most state and local residents own have held their own.

According to information on the Vermont Department of Taxes Web site, the median value of homes on 6 acres or fewer (described as R-I homes on property transfer returns) sold in Addison County through the first nine months of 2008 is $213,500. That represents an increase of about $6,000, or 2.9 percent, from the median value over the entire 12 months of 2007.

Statewide, the median sales price of an R-I home in the first nine months of 2007 — the price point at which an equal number of homes sold for either less and more money — was $206,000, an increase of $6,000, or 3 percent, from all of 2006.

Independent real estate appraiser Bill Benton of Vergennes said he is not ready to call that good news, especially considering that fewer R-I homes are selling this year in Addison County than in 2007. Through Sept. 30, 2008, 128 R-I homes in Addison County sold, while 252 R-I homes sold in all of 2007.

Benton said that sales figure for all of 2008 will be lucky to hit 150 this year, but he is happy to see prices hold their own.

“I’m not saying that’s definitely a positive trend, but I’m saying it’s at least stable,” he said.

National Bank of Middlebury President Ken Perine also sees stable values in the home sales his business is tracking, although he wouldn’t rule out a price drop of 5 percent or less. Perine said typically Vermont, including Addison County, does not see the wild swings in real estate value that markets elsewhere do. 

full story

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