• Stephen Mills, Times Argus

French Block groundbreaking celebrated


MONTPELIER – Civic and nonprofit leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of an affordable housing project in the historic French Block on Main Street in the Capital City on Tuesday. Under sunny skies, there was an atmosphere of jubilation at the official lifting of a dark era for the upper two floors of the 1875 Italianate building that have remained vacant for more than 75 years. Dozens of people gathered in front of City Hall across the street from the French Block for a ceremonial celebration that included speeches by Vermont Congressional leaders, Mayor Anne Watson and representatives of the nonprofit housing organizations Housing Vermont and Downstreet Housing and Community Development in Barre. The $6.1 million project will create a total of 18 units – two efficiency apartments and 16 one-bedroom apartments. Rents, which include heat and hot water, will range from $715 to $875 per month. The project – under the supervision of Montpelier architects Black River Design and New Hampshire-based construction contractor Trumbell-Nelson – is expected to be completed in December. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced Vermont will receive more than $16 million in additional funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and NeighborWorks America. As vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy was able to secure funding that includes $7.6 million in Community Development Block Grants, $3 million from the HOME program, and more than $620,000 for Emergency Solutions Grants. Vermont's five NeighborWorks affiliates will receive another $1.2 million to invest in affordable housing and community development programs. Leahy celebrated being back in his hometown and bringing home the bacon for much-needed affordable housing programs in Montpelier and for the state to encourage workers and families to stay in or move to Vermont. "We all come together to make a project like the French Block work," Leahy said. "Not only does it work but it provides a thing that everybody needs: a home. "It makes a heck of a difference in our community if you have people who have a stake in the community because they live there." Leahy said the French Block rehabilitation will provide a stable environment that will support individuals and the community in other ways. "It can be a more affordable place for someone to live or it can be a stable place for someone who's had to move several times in the last couple of years," Leahy said. "It may mean that someone can have a job and not have to commute. All these things can help. "So I'm glad to see it. I'm also glad to see my hometown become more vibrant," Leahy added, thanking building business occupant Aubuchon Hardware for partnering with the project. Welch credited funding sources through TD Bank, Vermont Housing Financing Agency, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, HUD, NeighborWorks America, Vermont Community Development Program, Montpelier Housing Trust Fund, Northfield Savings Bank, Efficiency Vermont, and others. Guests at the event were welcomed by Watson, Eileen Peltier, executive director of Downstreet, and Nancy Owens, president of Housing Vermont, co-partners in the project. "What a great day to stand on the steps of City Hall and see the activity across the street," Peltier said, crediting "a long list" of resources, partners, and national, state and local officials. Owens said, "We are fortunate to have leaders in Vermont at every level of government and public service who commit to a just, compassionate and equitable vision for our state. The French Block, with its subsidized rents, partnerships with service providers, and ideal location for people without cars, is the visible manifestation of Montpelier’s commitment to these ideals." Watson added: "What a rare opportunity we have to refurbish housing right in our downtown. This is exactly the kind of revitalization that Montpelier has been waiting for. For me this project represents the city's ability to work with community partners, using our assets well and making Montpelier more accessible to Vermonters."

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