New Middlebury rental units offer affordability

MIDDLEBURY — Nearly a year and a half of construction on two new buildings and rehabilitation on three existing structures culminated in the formal dedication of 22 units of decent, affordable housing in the heart of Middlebury last Thursday.
More than 50 people gathered at the complex off North Pleasant Street at John Graham Court on Oct. 22 to dedicate the complex as the Peter Coe Village Apartments.
The apartments, managed by the Addison County Community Trust, were created to help make it possible for people of modest means to live with dignity in Middlebury. They will be available to households earning up to 60 percent of the median income for Addison County. ACCT and its partner Housing Vermont said, as an example, a two-person household could earn up to $35,220 a year.
The development, which was build at a cost of just under $6.4 million, includes 14 two-bedroom apartments and a mix of other units ranging from efficiencies to four-bedroom. Monthly rents range from $645 for a one-bedroom unit to $785 for two bedrooms — both include heat and hot water.
Crucially, one building includes a laundry facility, a common room where tenants of the neighborhood can hold birthday parties and other larger gatherings, and an apartment for an on-site manager.
The chairman of the ACCT board, John Tenny, pointed out that designers and builders took great care to maintain the architectural detail of the homes, which is particularly apparent in the two historic buildings facing North Pleasant Street.
Work in these older buildings focused on energy efficiency, roof repair, mechanical and electrical system upgrades, interior updates and masonry repair.
Funds for the project came from many sources, the largest component ($3.8 million) coming in the form of federal tax credit equity from the Green Mountain Housing Equity Fund. Some $22,000 came from the town of Middlebury’s revolving loan fund.
According to ACCT, more than 4,000 Addison County residents — almost one in 10 — live in poverty.  For a family of four, this means earning about $24,000 per year or less and corresponds to about 30 percent of area median income for similar families.  A family at that income level can afford to pay $600 per month in rent without exceeding 30 percent of their income, the level generally considered “affordable.”
Median rent in the county hovers around $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to ACCT, and with the county’s vacancy rate chronically below 1 percent, affordable apartments are exceedingly difficult to find. 
Many families in Middlebury, as well as in other area towns, are cost-burdened, meaning they spend so much of their income on rent and utilities that they can’t raise themselves up, according to ACCT Executive Director Elise Shanbacker.
The original buildings on John Graham Court were originally run as affordable housing by the predecessor of the agency called Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, or HOPE. That agency’s executive director, Jeanne Montross, recalled when Peter Coe of Shoreham applied to be the property manager for that and other affordable housing sites. She said Coe didn’t seem to be exactly what they were looking for, but he proved himself quite capable, taking care of the broad range of characters who resided in the apartments under his watch.
“He was not just an apartment manager, but a social worker, too,” Montross recalled. “He was fantastic. Peter walked right up to the edge of the fine line … We are all better off for the work he did for us.”
Sadly, Coe was killed on Dec. 27, 2009, at age 43. A member of the Shoreham Fire Department, Coe was helping free a car that had slid off an icy road into a ditch when he was struck by a pickup truck.
Coe’s widow, Valerie Coe, and their daughter, Genevieve Coe, who came from New York City to be at the event, cut a ribbon in front of the Peter Coe Village Apartments to signify their completeion. Genevieve Coe said she learned from her father and from her mother, a nurse, the importance of giving oneself to the community, which has led her into a career in mental health counseling. She said that dedicating an affordable housing project in his name is a perfect tribute to her father.
ACCT board chair John Tenny, principal of the Middlebury builder Mill Bridge Construction, was happy to see the project come to fruition, but he sees the need for more affordable housing in town.
“I got involved (ACCT) in 1992 because I had employees working for me who couldn’t afford the product I was selling,” Tenny said.
He was thankful that ACCT and other groups have added some diversity in the price of housing in Addison County through creation of dedicated lower-priced rentals, but overall he said “that situation has not improved.”
Tenny said that a community is more stable when it has a mix of people with a mix of different incomes and a mix of housing where they can live. A community with just a lot of high-priced, single-family homes is not healthy.
“We need more good affordable housing,” he said.
VALERIE COE, THE widow of Peter Coe, cuts a ribbon at the new Peter Coe Village Apartments off Pleasant Street in Middlebury last Thursday as her daughter, Genevieve, and other affordable housing advocates look on.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

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