Regional agencies boosted by $875,000 in state grants

By Patrick McArdle
Rutland Herald & Times Argus
Staff Writer Date: July 9, 2016 Section: Local

Two Rutland agencies will benefit from the recent round of community development grants:

The Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging will develop a new headquarters in the northwest of Rutland and NeighborWorks of Western Vermont will expand their efforts in Bennington County. The two groups received grants of $250,000 each from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

Also, Shires Housing also won a grant for $375,000 to renovate 22 units in seven buildings in Bennington County.

SVCOA plans to renovate a former private home and residential care facility at 143 Maple St. The project is expected to cost about $500,000 and the SVCOA has applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a rural development loan for the rest of the money.

NeighborWorks’ officials hope to open a permanent office in Bennington, which would increase their presence in Bennington County, and allow them to offer small grants and loans to encourage rental property owners to invest in their housing units.

Sandy Conrad, executive director of the SVCOA, said she hopes they will be in their new location by January. They currently have offices on Route 4 in Rutland.

Conrad said she hopes to have a commitment from the USDA by August and to close on the former Maple Terrace Residential Care Home by Aug. 3.

With the grant and the loan, SVCOA would convert the two-story building, which they’re buying for $87,000, into offices compliant with federal Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

SVCOA, an private nonprofit, seeks to “create and sustain opportunities for our elders and their caregivers,” Conrad said. The intent is to allow senior citizen to remain in their own homes as long as possible to ensure “maximum independence and quality of life.”

Funded by federal and state sources, along with voter-approved appropriations from the towns it serves and donations, SVCOA services include Meals on Wheels, money management assistance and connecting seniors with their own services or state-provided services.

The agency primarily works with seniors whose income is below the poverty level. Their new building will allow them to serve what Conrad estimates will be more than 2,000 senior citizens a year.

SVCOA has already moved several times in the last 40 years, and Conrad said she’s hoping to avoid that inconvenience and cost in the future through owning their own headquarters. The move will be planned with the goal of not creating any disruption in services.

The new SVCOA headquarters will be in Rutland’s northwest neighborhood. Because that area is in the midst of a revitalization project, SVCOA was able to apply for a community development block grant.

“I can’t say how grateful I am to the state, and I actually would say how grateful I am to the city and especially the mayor and the Rutland Redevelopment Authority staff. … (It’s important) that the state recognizes the importance of our aging population and the services and supports that they need,” Conrad said.

Mayor Christopher Louras said in a statement that the grant “further proves that progress continues and neighborhood improvement is far from stagnant.”

“We enthusiastically welcome this vital community partner as part of the city’s and region’s significant redevelopment efforts,” he said.

While the SVCOA offices could use the entire space in the building, Conrad said they have been working with the Rutland City Police Department and Project VISION, and may provide the police space that could be used while they’re patrolling in the northwest neighborhood.

Conrad said SVCOA also got assistance from NeighborWorks in preparing their application, an agency which also benefited from the grants announced this week.

Ludy Biddle, executive director of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, said staff at her agency wanted to be able to provide more services by being centrally located with a permanent location in Bennington County.

“We started providing services to Bennington County as early as 2004, I think, but always at a distance,” Biddle said.

The grant would allow NeighborWorks to run a pilot program that would improve the physical condition of rental housing units in Bennington through permanent staff in the town. The grant will fund the first year of the pilot project.

“At the end of the first year, hopefully with some positive results under our belts, we’ll go back to the (state) for a second year of funding,” she said.

Biddle said she didn’t have an exact date for the establishment of an office but said it will be as “soon as possible.” This week, NeighborWorks staff will be looking at space that may be shared with Shires Housing, a Bennington County nonprofit which helps people find affordable housing.

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