BRATTLEBORO -- Since the Brattleboro Housing Authority was incorporated in 1962 the organization has been growing and changing to meet the evolving needs of the town's low income, senior and disabled residents.
From its early days of acquiring land and constructing buildings, up to its present-day role of maintaining properties and helping its residents access services, BHA has been an important part of Brattleboro's housing community.
On Wednesday, one day after the state commemorated the one-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, and the housing authority itself looked back over a tumultuous year following the storm's damage, BHA celebrated its first half century and looked forward to the future that is sure to bring more change and growth.
"Everyone who is involved with the housing authority understands that we can't just be a brick and mortar organization," Executive Director Chris Hart said at Wednesday's 50th anniversary celebration, which was held at Melrose Terrace, the site of Irene's most devastating impact on BHA. "It's our mission to find people housing and help people stay in that housing. We're not just landlords."
BHA was started in the early 1960s when other similar housing organizations were beginning their work across the United States.
BHA was the second housing authority incorporated in Vermont.
The initial charge was to use federal dollars to build low income housing and over the next few
Its last location previous to the Richards Building, which was recently opened in West Brattleboro, was the Samuel Elliot Apartments in downtown Brattleboro which opened in 1982.
The A.W. Richards Building opened in 2010, largely because the property became available and BHA decided to become a partner in transforming part of it into low income housing.
Soon after the Samuel Elliot Apartments opened, the federal government began pulling back from its commitment to open new buildings and BHA, as well, started to change its focus.
Hart, who started working at BHA in 1995, says the group was managing more than 200 units, and with its tenants requiring a variety of services BHA began looking at ways to help its tenants.
Throughout the group's five decades of work, Hart stresses that volunteer citizen boards have been the life blood that has moved the group forward through its evolution.
"When you look back at the history you see that people have been committed and engaged and creative," she said. "We have a very proud history."
Since changing its mission over from building apartments to helping its residents, BHA has started programs like its Support and Services at Home, or SASH, program.
BHA now works with all of its residents to make sure they receive the health, mental health, transportation and child care services they need.
Wednesday's celebration was held under a brilliant blue sky with a free barbecue lunch
Hart said the group did not want to focus on the one-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, but at the same time it was impossible to ignore the affect the storm had on BHA.
The 2011 storm flooded its properties at Melrose Terrace and forced BHA to take a more realistic look at its apartments up the hill at Hayes Court.
After more than two decades of largely managing units, BHA is now once again contemplating the construction of new apartments as it works to relocate the approximately 150 residents out of the flood way.
"Even if Irene didn't happen we'd be here celebrating 50 years," Hart said. "Irene forced us to look at where we house people and have to get them out of the floodway. I never want people to have to go through what they went through last year. There is still a lot of work to do."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer