Transitional apartments help homeless become independent

VERGENNES — Robyn Yoder had grown weary of living in a troubled home and decided earlier this year that it was time for a change.
“I moved away from my family of struggling addicts. I needed to cleanse my life from that,” she said on Thursday.
So Yoder, 24, and her boyfriend, Josh Gordon, 26, moved from southern Vermont to the Vergennes area, where Gordon was raised.
It was rough in the beginning. As they looked for work, they had to spend some time at the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter on Monkton Road and at local hotels. But they eventually landed jobs and recently got what they consider to be a huge break in planning the next chapter of their lives together: An apartment of their own in a new transitional housing project at 74 Green St. in Vergennes.
Owned and operated by the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter, the Green Street Transitional Housing complex officially opened its doors on Thursday during an event attended by Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state and local officials.
The building includes three apartments containing two, three and five bedrooms, respectively, all to be rented to low-income families looking to make the transition from homelessness to a permanent place to live. One of those families is Yoder and Gordon.
“It’s been life-changing,” Yoder said.
 She and Gordon can occupy their new apartment for up to two years. They and the other occupants will have access to a variety of services to hasten their path to independence, including a case manager, professional counseling, an in-house clinician and a local Addison County Transit Resources bus stop to get to work and appointments. Vergennes schools are only a short walk away.
“This is such a beautiful home, and it will be home to many people,” said Graham Shelter Executive Director Elizabeth Ready, who with shelter assistant director Paige Ackerson was doing painting and other final spruce-up work on 74 Green St. in anticipation of the governor’s Thursday arrival.
The apartment building was previously owned by Gary Boynton. Boynton put the property on the market and shelter officials — with a lot of help from the National Bank of Middlebury and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board — assembled a financing package to purchase and renovate the two-story structure.
The shelter paid $227,000 for the house and spent another $165,000 on renovations, which included adding insulation, a state-of-the art furnace and a hot-water heater; installing new plumbing; and making the structure compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Qualifying tenants cannot earn more than 30 percent of the median household income for Addison County, which translates to a maximum of $21,200 annually for a family of four. And Ready noted that some new state programs assisting homeless Vermonters will ensure that building tenants will pay only modest rents.
Those programs include the “Vermont Rental Subsidy” and an expanded Graham Shelter Program that allocates state resources to transitional housing, instead of primarily hotel vouchers. Rents include heat and utilities, and area churches have helped assemble furnishings for the apartments.
“This year, the governor has been very proactive in working with us,” Ready said.
And she and her colleagues are hoping the administration and Vermont General Assembly will do even more during the upcoming legislative session. Specifically, Ready wants to see the state double the Vermont Rental Subsidy from $500,000 to $1 million, in order to double the number of families housed through that offering, and to increase funding to the Emergency Shelter Program by $400,000.
Meanwhile, two of the three apartments at 47 Green St. are occupied. Ready said the vacant five-bedroom apartment could accommodate a large family or perhaps two single moms and their respective children.
Ready and Ackerson anticipate 47 Green St. — just like the shelter — will soon be full. With the federal shutdown and many salaries not keeping pace with market rents, young families in particular are having a tough time finding affordable places to stay.
Ackerson added that some young families, in addition to not making much money, have poor credit ratings and poor references from previous landlords to whom they perhaps were not able to pay rent in a timely fashion. These factors are all obstacles to landing a new apartment.
Living at 47 Green St., Ackerson said, will allow families to bank some money and “help them practice good tenancy.” This will improve their prospects for landing a more permanent home in the future.
Graham Shelter board Chairwoman Abi Sessions praised Ready for her stewardship of the nonprofit organization, which has now created three transitional housing projects.
“These are really critical steps to supporting people in moving from homelessness to permanent housing,” Sessions said.
In addition to being a tenant, Yoder is also serving as on-site manager at 47 Green St., a job that she loves.
“I love working with people to change their lives, just as the shelter has changed mine,” Yoder said. “This is our transition.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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