BRATTLEBORO -- When the Brattleboro Housing Authority held its annual meeting last week this year's winners of the Tom Yahn Housing Leadership Award had to first get honorary certificates naming them Windham County residents for the day.
The annual award, which is given each year by either BHA or by the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, recognizes a community member who demonstrates a lifelong commitment to affordable housing.
This year the award went to U.S. Housing and Urban Development Vermont Field Director Michael McNamara and Vermont Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Hollar.
Since 2007 the award has been given to a Windham County resident, and the decision to give it out this year to two state officials highlights the unique and challenging times BHA has recently gone through, as well as some of the historic plans that stand in its immediate future.
"It certainly has not been business as usual here," said BHA Executive Director Chris Hart during an interview following the annual meeting, which was held Thursday, Nov. 29, at the River Garden. "I don't think the housing authority will ever be the same again."
The Tom Yahn Housing Leadership Award was given to McNamara and Hollar to recognize the work they both did in supporting BHA as it recovered from the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.
They worked together, and with other staff members around the state, to make sure money from HUD, FEMA, and the state, made its way to Windham County, and to BHA, in the months following Irene.
Hart said McNamara pulled together officials from HUD and other state housing groups to carve out special funds to help the housing authority recover.
The Brattleboro Housing Authority is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and while last week's meeting drew attention to the past few years, Hart says the next few years will also present challenges that the organization has not had to address in a long time.
BHA is currently looking at its options in relocating about 152 people who are still living in the floodway in Melrose Terrace and in outdated apartments at Hayes Court.
The group did a study and is assessing the strengths and weakness at five different sites around Brattleboro for new housing units.
There are still no estimates for the project, but Hart says it will likely cost millions of dollars and will require state, federal and local funding.
The project might also create a new partnership with the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, which could assume a lead role in financing and planning. If Windham & Windsor Housing Trust does partner with BHA, it would represent the first time in the state that a housing trust and a housing authority come together on a project.
Harts also said the past year-and-a-half has been extremely hard on the housing authority.
Many of the staff members who were around on Aug. 28, the day of the storm, have since moved on and BHA is moving ahead with many new staff members
And with all of these changes, BHA is also transforming, Hart said, and providing more services for the people who live in its properties.
"We've had quite a few challenges, and it is no secret that it has been hard on us and there are still many variables," Hart said. "But I think after all this we are a stronger organization. We have a great, dedicated staff who are committed to serving the residents. We are ready for the future."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org.