About 219 Pleasant Street Project
A 10-unit multi-family apartment building at 219 Pleasant St. is awaiting renovation after the Select Board unanimously approved the submission of an application for a $650,000 community development grant.
Jon Hale, of the real estate development and property management company Hale Resources, is the sub-grantee for this application. He plans to submit the application for the Vermont Community Development Program Implementation Grant Sept. 4. The funds are available through the town, so the town has to be the main applicant for this grant.
Hale purchased the property for $285,000 July 19 and is now awaiting grant approval so Hale Resources can begin the renovation process.
"I'm sure you are aware of all the older houses in Bennington," Hale said. "The problem with these buildings is they need a lot of work...to bring them up to code and make them a marketable product."
His company's plan is to safely relocate the current tenants in the building and during the time it is vacant, complete renovations and upgrades including new electrical wiring, historic preservation, and adding extra parking.
Community Development Director Zirwat Chowdhury says the existing tenants will be surveyed whether they want to remain in the building after it is renovated, and they will be given the first chance to return if they choose.
"There's a very concerted effort to ensure no [tenant] displacement is caused through this process," Chowdhury said.
Hale added that he has no concerns about finding alternative, safe housing for the tenants because his company has experience managing over 150 other units.
Hale mentioned the building's "great location" since it is next to the bus station and within walking distance from downtown. He believes it is the "poster child" for what the VCDP program was designed for: providing safe, affordable housing to the community.
In order to comply with the VCDP grant, the building must comply with the Fair Housing Act. There is also a five-year change-of-use policy that comes with the grant to ensure that the building is properly maintained after the closure of the grant. The town can decide whether it wants to extend this time period.
Hale says his company would accept subsidies, but the housing itself will not be subsidized housing. Six out of the 10 units are required to go to residents who make less than 85 percent of the median income, Hale said. Rent for a one-bedroom will be approximately $750, and $900 for a two-bedroom.
Select Board comments
"When people see that figure — $750,000 for 10 apartments— it's a shock," said Select Board Member Jim Carroll. "I've learned that the federal laws that guide the rehabilitation of these properties are what drive up the cost."
"Nevertheless, it's an infusion to our local economy," he added.
He reminded the audience that this money isn't coming from the town; it comes from federal money that is available to anyone who applies for it.
"For me if we're trying to rehabilitate...a beautiful old home and improve that part of our local neighborhood, I'm all for it," Carroll said.
Select Board Chair Thomas Jacobs said he expects the town to be compensated for its time in overseeing the project.
Select Board Member Jeanne Connor, who is on the Board of Shires housing, expressed her excitement for the project. "I absolutely support affordable housing projects in this town," she said.
However, she also addressed the for-profit nature of Hale Resources, asking what would happen if the project came in under budget and there was extra money left over.
Hale ensured her that, if there was leftover money, it would not be pocketed.
"We'll buy the house down the street," Hale said with a laugh.
Since the Select Board approved Hale proceeding with the application, the next step is for the state to review it. If the state awards the grant, Hale will come back to the Select Board and further discuss the terms of the project. A Memorandum of Understanding would be developed during this time.
Hale has approached other landlords about selling units in the same area; ultimately his goal is to obtain control of the entire block and renovate the other units too.
Hale's wants to ensure the building's current tenants are in new apartments by next spring and have tenants back—if they choose—by next winter.
"Our goal is to start in spring and finish by fall," he said.
Hale received the grant the of $650,000 and is proceeding forward with this project.
By Christie Wisniewski , Bennington Banner