Big grant fuels senior housing

VERGENNES — Seniors in Vergennes got some good news Friday when the Vermont Community Development Program awarded a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to the city for the long-planned and long-awaited senior housing center off Monkton Road.
That grant, officially announced by Gov. Jim Douglas at Vergennes American Legion Post 14 on Friday, provides one of the final two pieces of the financial puzzle for the fully permitted 25-unit, $5.8 million facility.
Douglas also announced a $50,000 grant for Bristol, which will be used to renovate Holley Hall (See story, Page 3).
Back in Vergennes, the 25,000-square-foot senior housing building, which will stand on a 6.5-acre parcel next to American Legion Post 14 and the Shaw’s Supermarket plaza, still awaits a decision on $1.1 million of funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
But city officials and project developers believe that money is on the way, in part because Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has already successfully lobbied for a $380,000 HUD grant for the building, which will include a library and meeting and dining rooms. It will also host local senior lunches and provide a home for the area’s Meals on Wheels program.
Terry McKnight, executive director of the Addison County Community Trust, which has worked for years with principal developer Housing Vermont Inc. on the project, said the proposed senior center has other positives.
It meets a demonstrated community need and is fully designed and ready to be built, McKnight said.
“I think our chances are very good, because it is a project that is otherwise fully funded and it’s a project that is fully permitted, and those aspects make it one that is graded highly in the system that is used by HUD,” he said.
Housing Vermont Executive Director Matt Moore said in February that officials in HUD’s regional office encouraged his organization to apply for the funding.
Much of the remainder of the funding will come from already-issued Vermont low income and affordable housing tax credits, the prior HUD funding, and incentives provided by Efficiency Vermont for energy-conservation measures incorporated into the project, Moore said.
The HUD decision is due in April. If, as is now increasingly likely, it is favorable, construction could start this summer and occupancy begin next summer.
City, state and federal officials said they are all thrilled the project, first discussed several years ago, looks to be on track. The last senior housing projects built in Vergennes, totaling 36 units, were established in the early 1980s on Walker Avenue.
Of the 25 units now planned, many of which will be set aside for seniors with limited incomes, five will contain two bedrooms. Mayor Michael Daniels said that means the project will make a dent in the city’s 100-strong waiting list for elderly housing apartments — but he would like to see an adjacent lot still owned by Housing Vermont developed into more senior housing.
“I would say I’m extremely happy we’ve taken this step, and look forward that we can continue to put pressure on people to keep moving (and build more),” Daniels said.
Before he formally presented the grant on Friday, Gov. Douglas said he believed the project’s location as well as its quality would be a boon to the city and its seniors.
 “I am very pleased to present this grant award,” Douglas said. “This investment will promote smart development and benefit the entire community by helping seniors remain in the community — contributing to the vibrancy of Vergennes.”
McKnight also pointed to economic benefits.
“What’s now a field behind the American Legion and the Shaw’s plaza will become a home to elderly people right in the city … It will create permanent jobs there … and will bring economic activity to that plaza and the city,” McKnight said.
In a press release, Sanders — who sent a representative to Friday’s announcement — credited not only Housing Vermont, the community trust and the Vermont Community Development Program, but also Betty Bristol and Martin Casey of the Vergennes Senior Center and the staff at the Champlain Valley Area Agency for their long-term support of the senior center.
“You should all be very proud of the work that you have done to make this senior housing project a reality,” Sanders said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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