Our Opinion: A huge step forward


It's been a long two years for residents of Melrose Terrace as they waited to hear their fate since the federal government, after Tropical Storm Irene, made it clear that eventually the housing complex would have to close because it's in the floodway.

It must have been a great relief to those residents when Brattleboro Housing Authority Executive Director Chris Hart announced this week that a location has been found to partially replace the 48-year-old public housing project.

BHA is teaming up with Housing Vermont, a non-profit development company that works with local organizations and public agencies to create permanent affordable housing around the state. The two organizations have secured an option to purchase a 2.8-acre site at 464 Canal St., near Walgreens, so they can build a 55-unit, three-story apartment building to help partially replace the 80 units at Melrose.

What's even more exciting is that the location was the first choice of Melrose tenants and BHA officials who have been looking at potential sites around Brattleboro for more than a year. "This is a site that is near the hospital, three pharmacies and stores and restaurants, and it is also close to residential development," Hart said.

Partnering with Housing Vermont will allow BHA to get access to different funding sources. But while Hart says this partnership was crucial to moving the project forward, there is a catch. Since Housing Vermont will own the land, the Red Clover Commons apartment building will not be a public housing project, but will instead be built as affordable housing.

This means the tenants' housing support will be different than what they are receiving at Melrose, but Hart said BHA will do whatever it takes to ensure that the Melrose residents do not see a rate increase. Given BHA's track record in advocating for these residents, we have every confidence that Hart will stay true to her word.

In the meantime, BHA officials are working to secure the necessary funding for the project, estimated to cost $13 million. The Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, which has been awarded disaster recovery funding due to Tropical Storm Irene, is requesting a $5 million allocation for BHA. If that money is approved Hart said it will be used to purchase the land, and local permitting could begin in November.

Securing that funding will be another huge step forward, but there are still several more hurdles to overcome before the first tenant moves in. Obviously, BHA needs more funding. Plus, there are environmental tests to complete, designs to approve, and all the necessary permits that come with a project of this size. But if everything falls into place, construction could begin next fall and the housing unit could open the following year.

That may seem like a long way off for the Melrose residents whose lives have been in limbo for two years already, but at least it's progress. And having a location and targeted timeline for completion allows them to envision what their new homes will be like and plan accordingly.

In fact, Hart said the Melrose residents will help with the design for Red Clover Commons. That's significant, and we comment BHA for including the tenants in this process, because having that input will make Red Clover feel more like a home when they finally do move in. BHA also needs to develop another 25 apartments, and new offices, to completely replace the facilities at Melrose Terrace. That will require a whole new round of permitting, applications and funding. Still, as Hart said, securing the site on Canal Street was a huge step forward for the project.


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