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Groundbreaking Marks French Block Housing Start

Senator Leahy, Eileen Peltier, Nancy Owens and Congressman Welch

For the past 75 years, the apartments on the top two floors of Montpelier’s French Block have stood empty.  That is changing.  Downstreet Housing & Community Development and Housing Vermont are now working together to restore the building to its former glory while creating much-needed housing units in the heart of Montpelier.

Today, Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch joined the two nonprofits, municipal officials, funders, community members, and others to celebrate the start of construction.

“One of the reasons I work to increase the federal investments that help Vermont build new homes is because a stable and affordable place to live can make all the difference. They make a difference both to the person or family living in that home, but also to the entire community.  Our communities are more vibrant when we ensure that people have the opportunity to live and work in a downtown,” said Senator Patrick Leahy.  “Thanks to the hard work of Downstreet and Housing Vermont, that opportunity will be a reality for more of our friends and neighbors.”

This Downstreet and Housing Vermont partnership dates back to 2010 when the two organizations first looked at redeveloping the upper stories of the French Block. At that time, needed HUD funding could not be secured and the project did not proceed. In 2013 Downstreet renewed the conversation with the City of Montpelier about creating new housing at the French Block in response to the Capital City’s tight rental housing market.

In 2016 Downstreet signed an option agreement with Aubuchon Hardware which occupies a portion of the first floor commercial space and will continue to own and occupy the ground floor commercial space. Downstreet and Housing Vermont purchased the property in December of 2017 as a housing limited partnership.  Aubuchon has proven to be a dependable and accommodating partner, helping the project to move forward smoothly while continuing to operate their storefront on the ground floor.

The extensive renovation of the upper two floors will provide a total of 18 apartments—16 one-bedroom apartments and two efficiencies.  The project creates new floor plans, essentially building new, highly efficient apartments while retaining existing historic features.  Laundry facilities will be provided and the building will be served by an elevator.

“Every time we create new housing affordable to our most vulnerable Vermonters, it takes a perfect balance of opportunity, passion, caring and hard work and everyone involved has contributed all of those and more,” said Downstreet Executive Director Eileen Peltier.

Housing is typically the largest expense of individuals and families, but transportation costs are also significant.  Where you live affects how much you spend on transportation.  The French Block’s downtown site puts many retail stores, services, and employers within easy walking distance of home.

“This project is a big boost to Montpelier’s downtown and for the people who live and work there,” said Congressman Peter Welch.  “It breathes life into an historic building in the heart of the city while providing much needed housing that is both high-quality and affordable. I am inspired by the genuine collaboration of diverse partners and local leaders that made this possible.  Congratulations Montpelier!”

Funding totaling more than $6.1 million from several private and public sources was raised to finance the total development cost.  TD Bank is providing the construction financing and will invest $4 million in federal tax credit equity while the Northfield Savings Bank will invest through state tax credit equity. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board is loaning state funds as well as funds from two HUD programs.  The City of Montpelier is loaning City Housing Trust Fund money as well as VCDP funds through the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. The Vermont Housing Finance Agency is using funds invested by the New England Federal Credit Union to provide a deferred loan. NeighborWorks is also participating as a lender.

Black River Design is the project architect and Trumbull-Nelson Construction is the construction manager.

“Redeveloping this historic building was challenging,” said Housing Vermont President Nancy Owens.  “However, it also offers several important benefits including creating new housing in a low-vacancy market and boosting the vitality of downtown Montpelier. With the leadership of our elected officials, help of our funders, and the cooperation of Aubuchon Realty we are now looking forward to opening the doors to 18 new homes early next year.”

Those wishing to learn more about housing opportunities at the French Block Apartments should contact Downstreet at (802) 476-4493 or visit http://downstreet.org/for-rent/ .