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Successful leader retiring from affordable housing agency

MIDDLEBURY — After working more than a quarter-century as an attorney in such urban centers as Los Angeles and Boston, Terry McKnight decided in 2002 that he was ready for a new career with a different focus. So he applied to become executive director of the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT), the area’s largest creator and manager of affordable housing.
McKnight got the job, and has never regretted it.
“I’ve found it a very interesting job, and challenging as heck,” McKnight said. “The past 12 years have gone by really fast.”
After presiding over a period of unparalleled growth in the ACCT’s housing portfolio, McKnight, 64, is ready to move into retirement. But he has agreed to stay on board until next summer, if needed, to assist in the transition to a new chief administrator. The ACCT board is currently recruiting a new executive director, a position that as of Monday had drawn more than 25 applicants.
“We started discussing succession at ACCT more than a year ago,” McKnight explained. It’s a process that has been encouraged by ACCT’s state partners, including Housing Vermont and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which note that vacuums in leadership can sometimes kill promising housing projects. The ACCT has already taken steps to solidify its accounting department with the hiring of Julie Bourgeois and the creation of a finance subcommittee, which has allowed McKnight to focus on “bigger picture” items.
And ACCT’s picture has gotten a lot bigger during McKnight’s tenure.
When he took the helm a dozen years ago, ACCT owned/operated around 280 mobile homes and a few single-family homes. Now the nonprofit organization owns and/or manages a combined total of more than 725 mobile homes, homes and apartments, primarily in Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes.
Some of the highlights of the past dozen years, according to McKnight, include creation of:
•  Stonehill Apartments off Route 7, just south of The Centre shopping plaza in Middlebury. The building hosts 26 family  apartments and a parking garage for residents.
“It was a challenge — a small lot up against a hillside,” McKnight recalled of the early outlook for Stonehill.
But careful planning produced a well-designed building that is in harmony with the area, he noted.
“I have enjoyed arguing with people in Addison County over the past 10 years that (Stonehill) is affordable housing,” McKnight said with a smile.
•  Armory Lane senior housing in Vergennes, featuring 20 one-bedroom and five two-bedroom units for elders. A major federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) appropriation secured by then-Congressman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., helped ACCT leverage additional funds and tax credits to make the much-needed housing project a reality.
“We received a national award for that building for creative financing,” McKnight said.
•  The Middlebury South Apartments located off Court Street Extension. The 30 apartments are located within convenient walking distance to Route 7 banks and shopping amenities.
“The exciting part there is we sourced wood from the Champion Lands that the Vermont Land Trust owned —  sustainably harvested wood that allowed us to put hardwood floors in every room but the bathrooms,” McKnight said. “Those apartments look like something out of New York — very nice.”
•  Acquisition in 2008 of the Pine Meadows Apartments, located near Middlebury’s Wright Park. The ACCT updated and now manages the 30-unit apartment complex.
“We replaced kitchens, bathrooms, flooring,” McKnight recalled. “We completely spruced up that group of apartments that we continue to own with Housing Vermont.”
•  Management, beginning in 2009, of Housing Vermont’s entire affordable housing tax-credit portfolio in Addison County.
“At that point in time we were taking over management of around 250 apartments,” McKnight said.
It should be noted that ACCT’s affordable housing portfolio has grown steadily in spite of diminishing state and federal funding for development of new low-income homes.
“It’s a very competitive thing,” McKnight said. “Federal funds are drying up. HUD no longer does 202-program construction (assistance) for senior housing. Those funds have, over the years, been cut back.”
WORKING EFFICIENTLY
Thankfully, affordable housing organizations like ACCT have been working efficiently with the reduced funding that is available. Vermont in 2007 produced more units of affordable housing per dollar spent than any other state in the union, according to McKnight.
Still, McKnight gets frustrated when ACCT loses a potential project to a private developer who is able to outbid a nonprofit for a property.
“We can’t pay more than the property appraises for,” McKnight explained.
Longtime ACCT board Chairman John Tenny said McKnight has done a very good job and will be missed.
“We feel so fortunate to have selected Terry for this very challenging post,” Tenny said. “Terry has brought a great deal of enthusiasm and energy, along with good skills in many areas.”
Tenny is also pleased that McKnight will assist in the leadership transition. The future ACCT executive director will take over a staff of 11 full-time workers and an annual budget of more than $1 million.
McKnight said the focus of the organization will remain consistent.
“Our whole reason for being is to assure that families can find a home they can afford that’s safe and available for them to live comfortably,” McKnight said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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