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Brattleboro Replaces Public Housing Damaged By Tropical Storm Irene

Susan Keese / VPR

The Brattleboro Housing Authority has announced plans for fifty-five new apartments to replace public housing damaged in tropical storm Irene.

But the project faces challenges because of changes in the federal government’s approach to public housing.

The new development, called Red Clover Commons, will only partially replace the eighty units at Melrose Terrace. The complex, whose residents are elderly or disabled, had to be evacuated during the 2011 storm.

Tenants were allowed back after the damaged buildings were repaired -- but only temporarily because the complex is in a flood hazard area.

"And now HUD is really looking to housing authorities to use other sources of funds."- Christine Hart, Brattleboro Housing Authority

Melrose Terrace was built in 1965. It’s one of five developments in Brattleboro that were built and subsidized by HUD, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Affairs.

But Brattleboro Housing Authority  Director  Christine Hart says those days are gone.

“And now,” says Hart, “HUD really is looking to housing authorities to use other sources of funds -- the low income housing tax credits, different programs that can be used with section 8.”

The Brattleboro Housing Authority is working with Housing Vermont to access those funding programs and move the project forward.

The agencies have an option on a 2.8-acre site, convenient to stores and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Hart says Melrose residents are very much involved in the relocation process. They considered several locations.

“And they loved this site,” Hart says. “I can’t tell you how many people said to me, ‘This is where we need to be.’”

But Hart says the very low rents that have benefited Melrose tenants will be a challenge to sustain.

“The dilemma is that we’re taking people that have a public housing subsidy, we’re moving them to a brand new building,” says Hart. “And we need to make sure that we find a way to keep their rent the same as it has been under the public housing, because HUD is not building public housing anymore.”

The project got some good news recently. The Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development has earmarked five million dollars in expected flood disaster relief funds for the Brattleboro project. 

But Red Clover Commons is expected to cost  thirteen million. And the fifty-five-unit project leaves twenty-five more Melrose residents still in need of replacement housing.

The Brattleboro Housing Authority also needs to find a new location for its own offices, which are also at Melrose Terrace.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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