Old home making way for affordable new housing

MIDDLEBURY — Two local nonprofits are joining forces to ensure affordable housing will continue to exist at 51 Seymour St. in Middlebury.
The small parcel in question hosts three rental apartments owned and managed by the Addison County Community Trust, the county’s largest affordable housing organization. But the property — administratively split off from the John Graham Court housing complex around three years ago — has fallen into disrepair, to the extent that ACCT stopped renting the apartments in early 2015. Elise Shanbacker, executive director of ACCT, explained her organization typically doesn’t have access to funding for redevelopment of small-scale, single-family ownership projects or rental projects of fewer than 15-20 units.
And ACCT also doesn’t have another nearby property that could be combined with 51 Seymour that would enhance the prospects for project funding, Shanbacker noted.
So things were looking grim for the property and its future as an affordable housing site — until officials from Habitat for Humanity of Addison County stepped forward with an offer to redevelop the site for one, perhaps two, new homes for families that can’t afford a conventional mortgage.
“Given the in-town location and residential neighborhood of single-family homes, it’s a great site for affordable housing ownership housing, and Habitat is a great fit for providing that,” Shanbacker said.
Habitat for Humanity International is an organization that builds basic, affordable homes in partnership with families who have no possibility of obtaining a dwelling through conventional means. The organization sells the new homes to the partner families for cost, kept low by using volunteer labor. Construction supply stores often sell materials to Habitat projects at a reduced price. And the partner families are expected to physically participate in the construction of their homes, a practice known as “sweat equity.”
The Addison County Habitat group was born in 1998 and has built around 10 homes. Ashley Cadwell heads up Habitat for Humanity of Addison County’s building committee. The organization is working on a planned unit development off DeLong Road in Cornwall that will ultimately contain four Habitat homes. Volunteers are currently finishing the third home and will begin work on the fourth next summer, according to Cadwell.
MIDDLEBURY FIREFIGHTERS GATHER on the roof of a structure on Seymour Street last Wednesday night for a training exercise. The former three-unit apartment building located at 51 Seymour St. will soon be removed and replaced with one, or possibly two, affordable homes to be built by Habitat for Humanity of Addison County. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Habitat had been looking for a new Addison County home site, and Cadwell is excited about the ACCT-Habitat partnership and what it will mean to a lucky family. He noted 51 Seymour St. is very close to the downtown, local grocery stores, schools and public transportation to job sites in Addison, Chittenden and Rutland counties.
“Not only will the unit(s) be affordable, they will be located near town services,” Cadwell said.
Habitat officials stressed the new home or homes at 51 Seymour St. will not materialize overnight. It will likely be 2019 before construction is completed. Cadwell explained the speed at which Habitat can move is based on volunteer availability, resources and careful planning.
Still, residents are already seeing signs that something is about to happen on the property.
Middlebury firefighters on Sept. 13 used the former apartments for practice, cutting holes into walls as they simulated rescue and venting situations during a pretend blaze. This training is a precursor to demolition and removal of the apartment building, likely to occur during the first week of October, according to Cadwell. A contractor from Massachusetts has generously agreed to do that work for free — a gift that will pay dividends to future owners of the Habitat home(s).
“The goal is to keep the costs at a minimum so the house is available at an affordable price,” Cadwell said.
Once the lot is cleared, Habitat officials will turn their attention to planning the project. And they will get a big assist from Middlebury College faculty and students. Pieter Broucke and John McLeod of the college’s Architecture Department have agreed to loan their and their students’ talents in the design of the new home(s), according to Cadwell.
That expertise, Cadwell believes, will also help ensure that anything built at 51 Seymour St. will be weather-tight during cold Vermont winters.
“We will have a project that is highly energy efficient, which is of great importance in this economy,” Cadwell said.
ACCT deeded the property to Habitat earlier this month, and Shanbacker is pleased to see 51 Seymour St. begin a new chapter as affordable homes.
“We are excited this property can finally be redeveloped and made affordable to new families in the community,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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