Valley News – Upper Valley Haven plan would create low-income housing and shelter in White River Junction

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Twin Pines Housing and Upper Valley Haven are proposing to build affordable housing and more shelter beds on church property adjacent to the existing Haven site on Route 5.

The proposal could add 18 one-bedroom apartments for low-income tenants and 20 beds in emergency shelters in a bid to address the Haute Vallée housing crisis and concerns about safe housing for the homeless. shelter.

The two nonprofits said this week that they have the option to purchase two plots of property owned by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Route 5, aka Hartford Avenue, in White River Junction, where they wish to extend housing, shelter and social support services to families and individuals in distress.

If successful in securing the necessary funding and zoning approvals – St. Paul’s will first seek to divide its nearly 2-acre property into three plots – the parties hope to begin construction in 2023, organizers said. this week.

“We are a small, aging congregation and we need to do something to ensure our viability and there is this huge housing crisis in Hartford which is only getting worse,” said Leslie Black, chair of the St. Paul’s planning committee. . “We’ve always been interested in the problem, and it’s one way to use our property to meet that need,” she said, adding that the proceeds from the sale of packages will help pay for the upgrade. level of energy efficiency long overdue by the church. .

As part of the proposed plan, which will be presented informally to the Hartford Planning Commission on Monday evening, Twin Pines Housing would purchase a plot on the east side of the church to build a three-story structure containing 18 low-income housing units. ‘room. units, and the Haven would purchase a plot on the south end of the church property adjacent to its facility that would contain 20 shelter beds and program space and offices for staff.

St. Paul’s, which helped establish The Haven 40 years ago, would retain the land around its shrine and church hall.

By co-locating permanent low-income rental housing, acute accommodation capacity, and a menu of comprehensive support services, the church and non-profit organizations would effectively create a micro-campus and destination for families in difficulty and people who cannot afford a roof over their own or are homeless in the Haute Vallée, according to the organization’s officials.

The additional 8,000 square feet provided by its new dual-use building could also allow the Haven to host space for other Upper Valley social service organizations, such as domestic violence counselor WISE, the free medical and dental provider Good Neighbor Health Clinics and Addiction Treatment Center. Headrests to meet their clients, said Michael Redmond, executive director of Haven.

“We want it to be a place of resources, a center where we can invite other organizations that work with the same people as us,” Redmond said.

The current Haven facility, in addition to operating a food shelf, provides temporary shelter for eight families at the Byrne House Family Shelter and, in a separate building known as the Hixon House Adult Shelter, temporary residences for up to 20 people in 10 double rooms. – occupancy rooms.

Prior to the pandemic, The Haven also operated a “low barrier” shelter during the winter in which it set up 15 cots in the dining room for men and women who needed emergency shelter for the night. night. But COVID-19 concerns ended that program in March 2020 and the proposed new building would revive the shelter with room for 20 people on the second floor, Redmond explained.

“Now we want to build something better, better for safety, a little more space for privacy, partitions around camp beds, electrical outlets to charge phones, changing rooms, lockers, more showers, more laundry facilities, ”Redmond explained.

The first floor would be dedicated to meeting rooms, educational and program spaces, offices for staff and social workers. and computer workstations that residents could use to find permanent accommodation and work.

Redmond estimated the new building would cost around $ 3 million “typically,” which The Haven would fund through public and private grants and fundraising.

The proposed Twin Pines building would only be a few feet away, making it easy for a resident to tap into the resources and programs provided at The Haven, said Beth Long, the association’s finance director for housing.

Long said the proposal to add an affordable housing building to the St. Paul location for easy access to Haven resources is inspired by Twin Pines Housing’s low-income Parkhurst Community Housing apartment building. – also 18 units – in downtown Lebanon. The Haven has a social worker assigned to the residents of this building, who helps with everything from vouchers, transportation, treatment, and medical appointments if needed.

“It has been very successful here and we are now looking to provide the same opportunity to residents of Vermont,” said Long.

Long, who did not have a precise estimate of the cost of the 18-unit building but nonetheless expected it to be “in the millions,” said Twin Pines would seek grants from the State funded by federal money in addition to the allocation of tax credits that the association has leveraged on previous projects.

On Monday, the parties will appear before the Hartford Planning Commission to preview the plan with a formal request to be made at the start of the new year. Monday’s meeting is an informal session for the applicant and the city to question each other in order to sketch the scope of the project and consider the upcoming licensing process, said Lori Hirshfield, director of planning and of development in Hartford.

The Haven’s Redmond said the Planning Commission several years ago approved Haven’s status as a “planned development,” which it sought when the Route 5 site provided multiple functions – shelter, pantry. , programs – in one place.

A planned development means that the applicant does not have to request a derogation as long as the objective conforms to the underlying zoning, requiring only a modification of the approved plan.

The biggest obstacle may be resistance from neighbors on St. Paul’s property who do not relish the prospect of living next to an expanded homeless shelter, an issue that has blocked other attempts to address the issue. roaming in Hartford.

St. Paul’s Black said church members recently knocked on neighbors’ doors to inform them of the plan and gauge their reaction.

“We get varied responses. We get ‘it’s wonderful that you are doing this because housing is such a problem’ and then there are people who are not that enthusiastic, ”Black said.

Contact John Lippman at [email protected]


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