Community Support for Granite City Apartments
Once a bustling hub of activity full of students and teachers, the old Ward 5 School on Humbert Street in Barre City is now a blighted building that has been sitting empty for nearly ten years. Downstreet has been working on a plan that will breathe new life into the historic school by restoring and converting it into nine new apartment homes for low- and moderate-income households. Much of the work so far has involved finding the funding necessary to support the project’s $3 million budget, a complicated process that requires a variety of sources.
In response to the Barre City Council’s five-year goal to increase housing using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, Downstreet applied to receive $250,000 in support of the Ward 5 project. In January of this year, the Barre City Design Review Board approved the redevelopment plans, and when the allocation of the ARPA funds was posted on the agenda for the January 31st City Council meeting, some last-minute attempts to disrupt the effort were met with an outpouring of community support.
Barre resident Joe Reil said, “The building of more affordable housing directly addresses a serious and pressing need of this community.”
In fact, the Barre City Municipal Plan acknowledges not only the need for more affordable housing, but also the challenges posed by the aging housing stock and that, “Investment in the city’s homes and neighborhoods will have significant direct and indirect benefits to individual residents and families, and the community as a whole.”
The vote to approve the allocation was postponed by a week to allow more discussion on the matter, and in the meantime, Barre residents mobilized to voice their support. When there were question about the value of the project to Barre and whether it reflected the wishes of their constituents, a group of residents wrote a letter to the City Council to show that there is plenty of community backing for the project.
Bern Rose, who collected signatures for the letter of support, explained in her email to the City Councilors that “I asked folks in different neighborhoods how they felt… [t]here is almost unanimous support for allocating $250K of ARPA funds into the Downstreet Granite City Apartment Project from the modest sampling I have.”
Indeed, the Council meetings and Front Porch Forum were full of comments from supportive community members like Erika Reil, who said, “if we build housing, we are not only taking advantage of rehabbing a building and making it better. We are helping families see what a place Barre is. A place people want to move too, a place that wants families and have them settle here.”
Ultimately, the Council voted 5-1 in favor of the allocation of funds to the project. The decision, which came after much discussion and consideration, is a testament to the power and influence community members have when they stand up and speak out in support of affordable homes for all.
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