Upgrading senior housing units

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BELLOWS FALLS - Renovations are being made to the 41 senior housing units at what used to be the Hotel Rockingham in Bellows Falls.

Improvements are being made to the entire building, now known as the Rockingham Canal House. For more than 30 years, plans have been in the works to improve accessibility and upgrade living conditions.

Paul Stewart, president of Stewart Property Management and new owner of the Rockingham Canal House in Bellows Falls, said they are spending roughly $2.5 million in renovations on the building.

"We’re not creating new units, we’re renovating existing units and the building itself," said Stewart.

The owner said the renovations had started about a year and a half ago and most of the major work should be completed by the end of the year.

Stewart said they spent around $500,000 replacing the boiler units.

"We’ve spent about three-quarters of a million dollars on the boiler replacements, geothermal and heating units," said Stewart.

He said major renovations also have been made to the elevator.

"We’ve replaced the sprinkler system and fire alarm and totally updated the components in the elevator," said Stewart.

They also replaced any lights and buttons that weren’t lighting up. Stewart said for the one elevator, they have spent $100,000 on renovations.

The units are for those who are 62 years or older or the disabled.

"They have to have very low income," said Stewart.

He said the maximum yearly income for them to be accepted is $22,050, although the average income for people living in the units is $8,000 or $9,000 a year. He said the residents pay 30 percent of their annual income for their housing unit.

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Sam Falzone, with Vermont Housing Finance Agency and director of Multifamily Programs, said the government helps pay the rest.

"The units cost about $900 and the residents only pay $200 of that, the government pays the rest," said Falzone.

He said one of their plans was to take an old structure and turn it into something innovative. He said they have upgraded the elevator and use an underground water source to cool and heat the building. They also have put solar panels on the roof of the building and are using a geothermal water source to cool the building during the summer.

"We’ve replaced all the windows and the backside of the building has been completely redone," said Falzone. He said they had to replace the backside due to all the deterioration caused by water damage.

Falzone said there are one-bedroom units with an atrium running up the building to the sixth floor. He said a community space and sitting area has been added to the building. In addition, they have made renovations to the roof by adding an area where residents can go and sit.

Stewart said they also hired an artist to paint panels of historical buildings over the course of a month. There are six panels, each 6 feet long and 4 feet high.

Falzone noted the best feature of the housing units is the long term affordability. He said they were able to keep it in the public sector and won’t go back to private ownership. He said values of a building can change within 10 to 15 years, but in this case, the value and cost will stay about the same.

"There are a lot of older people living in Vermont now and the demand for senior housing units has increased," explained Falzone. He said the renting assistance program is for those who cannot afford the market rent and need the help.

"If the seniors were able to pay the market rent for the units, they wouldn’t be eligible for the rental assistance program," said Falzone.

He said they have been making the renovations while residents are still living in the building.

"We’re doing it without having to displace anyone," he explained.

He said the building had been wrapped in plastic for months and they reproduced the sign for the old Rockingham hotel.

Falzone said they are not yet done renovating and they are still improving the building.

Carter Vanderhoof can be reached at cvanderhoof@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 277.


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