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Habitat for Humanity buys four building lots in Vergennes

VERGENNES — Habitat for Humanity of Addison County has big future plans for the Little City.
Those plans are being made possible by the Oct. 16 purchase of four Booth Woods building lots from the Raymond Danyow Family Trust. And the sale came at a price that Habitat officials said will make it easier for the nonprofit to turn around and sell volunteer-built homes to Vergennes-area working families at an affordable cost.
“They legitimately seemed happy to make a contribution to the community,” said county Habitat board president Mickey Heinecken of the Danyow family.
According to property-transfer documents at Vergennes City Hall, Habitat paid $25,000 for four lots ranging from more than one-third to more than one-half of an acre.
Booth Woods is a subdivision off Green Street near the Waltham town line. It is served by city water and sewer and a city road that enters from its south end and exits from the north end.
The four new Habitat lots are lined up along the entry road on the right, just off Green Street. They are essentially level, and also near power. The lots conform to Vergennes zoning and have an existing Act 250 permit, although that permit might have to be updated or renewed.
The fact the lots are so easy to develop will help keep costs down for the local Habitat organization, which draws most of its funding from local donations and grants from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and in turn for its buyers.
“That becomes advantageous to us,” Heinecken said.
The county Habitat organization has worked around much of the county, and is just wrapping up work on a four-home project in Cornwall. Permitting for what the board hopes will be a two-lot project on Seymour Street in Middlebury is in process.
But Heinecken said Bristol is otherwise as far north as Habitat as ventured within the county.
“Being able to build in Vergennes is really important to us,” he said.
Heinecken said Habitat board members Poppy Cunningham, a Booth Woods resident, and Michael Johnson, Vergennes-area real estate broker, were instrumental in putting together the Booth Woods deal.
In the Habitat press release Johnston said the organization wanted to broaden its service area for a number of reasons.
“We are looking forward to being part of a volunteer team committed to providing affordable housing to citizens in the greater Vergennes community,” said Johnston. “By building homes in the Vergennes area, Habitat will broaden its reach to hard-working families in need of affordable, efficient housing, and expand our volunteer and donor base to the northern end of the county.”
Vergennes Mayor — and Habitat volunteer — Renny Perry also weighed in with a comment in the press release.
“This means in the near future, affordable housing will be constructed in Vergennes to meet the needs of working families in Addison County. The city needs this housing and it will be a welcome addition to the Booth Woods neighborhood,” Perry said.
Exactly how near that future will be is uncertain. Heinecken said the local Habitat organization has the funding and volunteer workforce (volunteers typically work on Wednesdays and Saturdays) to build one home a year.
Next up will almost certainly be at least one home, and possibly two, on Middlebury’s Seymour Street. But Heinecken said that schedule is not necessarily set in stone, other than the annual construction pace. Habitat could turn its attention to Vergennes after one home in Middlebury, for example.
“There are no restrictions in our plans,” he said. “We’re just going to build one home a year. That part is not going to be accelerated.”
Vermont Housing and Conservation Board guidelines determine families’ financial eligibility for Habitat homes. Currently a family must earn no more than 70 percent of the county’s median income, an amount that, for example, translates to about $52,000 for a family of four, according to Heinecken.
“They’re all working families. They don’t qualify for standard mortgages,” he said. “The big piece is affordability.”
A typical no-interest Habitat mortgage, with the parent Habitat for Humanity organization essentially serving as the bank, might be $135,000, Heinecken said. and with taxes and insurance a monthly payment might add up to about $800 or a little more. Families are also expected to make a $500 down payment and contribute at least 200 hours of construction sweat equity, hours Heinecken said are routinely exceeded.
Heinecken added Habitat homes are now built with extra insulation and furnished with efficient air-exchanging heat pumps to keep heating costs down to $500 or $600 a year.
“That’s also part of affordability,” he said.
Heinecken said he doesn’t think Habitat is “saving the world,” but he hopes it is making it a better place by creating needed affordable housing.
“When a family moves in … it changes everything,” he said. “I think we’ve been able to make a solid contribution to help Addison County improve what is obviously a huge problem.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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