COVID money helped buy a 1960s motel for housing. What's next for this 'funky' Brattleboro chalet?
A southern Vermont housing group got more than $2 million in COVID relief money to buy an old motel.
And for the past few years more than two dozen people who were experiencing homelessness have been staying on the property.
But the building needs extensive renovations if it is to remain in operation, and the housing group is beginning to chart a path for the future of the property.
Julie Guthrie moved into her room here at Dalem’s Chalet in September, and she’s still kind of pulling things together.
“I just got the table. I’m in the middle of trying to put the legs on so I can have some help standing it up and putting it over there,” she explains as she walks through the room. “I got that from my counselor over at [Health Care and Rehabilitation Services]. And I go over to the food bank every couple of weeks. That helps with some stuff.”
And so this tiny former motel room marks a new beginning for Guthrie after a few rough years.
“I’ve been married for 32 years to the same man. And he threw me out when I started having a drug problem. I was addicted to my pain medication and some Xanax,” she says. “And so this is the first apartment I’ve actually had on my own. I’ve always either lived with someone or have been married. And I’m trying very hard to make it work. And so far it is.”
The Windham and Windsor Housing Trust purchased Dalem’s Chalet at the height of the pandemic, at a time when advocates for those experiencing homelessness wanted to keep people separate, and not living together in congregant shelters.
At the same time there were millions of dollars in COVID relief money floating through the state. So the housing trust saw a chance to stand up a permanent supportive housing facility.
It usually takes a year or more to plan for a program like the one here, but because of the pandemic emergency it was done in just three months.
Cathe Courville, who lived here through the pandemic, says during the first year there was fighting, and drugs, and frequent visits from police.
“It was awful. Awful,” she says. “I never went out. I always kept in my house with my door locked and everything. We would see syringes all over the place. I used to be very scared. I used to like hide in the farthest corner of my room, on the floor, with all the lights out, praying.”
This is not the temporary motel program that’s been in the news so much, and which will be winding down this summer.
"This is the first apartment I’ve actually had on my own. I’ve always either lived with someone or have been married. And I’m trying very hard to make it work. And so far it is.”Julie Guthrie, Dalem's Chalet tenant
It’s instead a model called permanent, supportive housing.
The tenants pay for their rooms, using federal housing vouchers.
They can live here as long as they want.
And as part of the program a social service agency helps tenants with medical needs, transportation, and job searches.
Groundworks Collaborative is the local nonprofit agency that provides services to the tenants, and Executive Director Josh Davis acknowledges that the first year was tough on everyone.
“The way in which we got off the ground was incredibly challenging,” Davis says. “The housing trust purchased the units. We had to renovate. We had to pull stuff out. The community kitchen was a mess. We start to figure out the paperwork. And we’re doing that in the midst of a pandemic.”
Gradually, things stabilized. But now, advocates are trying to figure out whether they can make this home for 27 people permanent.
It will take extensive repairs, in part because of the unique architecture of Dalem's Chalet, which could be described, in a very non-technical way, as being pretty funky.
“It was built by a German immigrant who wanted to build a German chalet,” said Peter Paggi, Windham and Windsor Housing Trust director of housing development. “They built it by hand. I think a lot of the round wood came from on site. Yeah, and I think it ended up being a little funky.”
Dalem’s Chalet was built in the late 1960s, and it was built to look like an Old-World banquet facility.
In its heyday it hosted big parties fueled by German beer and wine and rich, European food.
The banquet hall, which now serves as the homeless shelter’s community room, has soaring beams and antlers still hanging up over the doorway.
“It was built in stages. Built at a time when standardization wasn’t really considered, might be probably the best way to say it. And the building does need a lot of work in order to get it up to the standard that we’re used to.”Peter Paggi, Windham and Windsor Housing Trust
Paggi says if you were building a shelter today, you probably wouldn’t do it like this.
“It was built in stages,” he says. “Built at a time when standardization wasn’t really considered, might be probably the best way to say it. And the building does need a lot of work in order to get it up to the standard that we’re used to.”
When they were rushing to move people in during COVID, Paggi says the housing trust did not have time do its typical upgrades.
An engineer says it’s not a tear-down.
The structure is sound, but it will likely take millions of dollars to have it remain as permanent housing.
Richard Johnson, who has a room on the first floor, hopes it happens.
“I’m 62 years old,” he says. “I worked 45 years in the manufacturing business. I mean, I’m retired, so I chose this as my retirement home. I love the view. I love this place. And we all take care of each other. We all look out for each other, you know. And that’s cool. I feel comfortable. I feel safe. And that’s why I’m staying."
The housing trust is just starting its assessment of the building and property, and they don't yet know where tenants would live during construction.
The motel deal also came with almost eighteen acres, and some of that land could be developed, and used for additional affordable housing.
The housing trust promises to hold neighborhood meetings, and initiate townwide discussions about housing, and about the future of Dalem’s Chalet as they move forward.
Cathe Courville, the resident who lived here during the tough times through the pandemic, wants to stick around and see what happens.
“There’s a lot of people that are just now getting started out , and have no idea how to live. And once they get into a situation like this, and they take a look around, and they see how other people are living, it helps them step up. Over here there’s caring, there’s, we’re going to face these issues, we’re going to work on them, we’re going to work it out, we’re going make it better. There’s hope, instead of just being on your own, you know?”
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman @hweisstisman.