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How a new law could help create housing in Vermont’s downtowns

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 5:39 PM EDT
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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s vibrant communities are often built around historic downtown centers filled with iconic buildings, like Brattleboro’s historic Brooks House.

A decade ago, a fire tore through the structure, striking a blow to the community.

“It became to folks in town that however goes this building, so does our downtown,” said Skye Morse of M&S Development.

Southern Vermont-based developer Morse launched a $24 million revitalization effort. But because rents in the block were low, banks would only finance $6 million of the project, leaving him scrambling for more funding sources.

“In most cases that means that the deal doesn’t get done and the downtown dies,” Morse said.

The Vermont Economic Development Authority, or VEDA, finances countless projects across the state. But there’s been a $1.5 million cap per project until now. A new law passed this year raises VEDA’s lending capacity from $1.5 million to $5 million, in hopes of spurring more projects like the Brooks House.

“All of these pieces fit together,” said Cassie Polhemus, the executive director of VEDA.

Polhemus calls the new law a big step forward in investing in downtowns and keeping jobs in Vermont.

“People want to come to Vermont. They want good jobs. They want there to be businesses that support those and pay decent wages,” Polhemus said.

So why is this change being made now? Lawmakers say Vermont’s housing crunch is forcing the state to consider every avenue for housing, including projects like the Brooks House, where there are businesses downstairs and housing units upstairs.

The new law also allows VEDA to finance assisted living and long-term care and mental health facilities.

“That will hopefully enable additional facilities online to support the community that wants to age here in our communities,” Morse said.

Another tool to tackle housing, labor and demographic challenges.

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