The Palmer Family home is under construction!
Come build with the Palmers and Bennington County Habitat on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m.
30 Corcoran's Way, North Branch Street, Bennington
"Jennifer Lane,” Bennington County Habitat for Humanity's affordable housing development in Manchester Center, VT, began in 2006 when Town Manager Pete Webster told us about available land along Jennifer Lane. We were unable to seriously consider a purchase at the time, but the idea persisted.
In 2007, the Town of Manchester discussed the need for affordable housing in its Town Plan, acknowledging the pressure exerted on Manchester's housing market by the town’s attractiveness to retirees, second-homebuyers, and families relocating from urban areas. They were concerned that many residents wondered whether their children would be able to stay and raise families in their hometown. The Town set goals to address the issue, including one to create opportunities for affordable housing and another to work cooperatively with non-profit organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, to help ensure the availability of affordable housing.
In early 2008, Manchester's Town Planner Lee Krohn brought the Jennifer Lane property to our attention again. This time, we were able to act on the idea, and in September 2009, The Town of Manchester approved our development plan. By March 2011, Bennington County Habitat owned 11 acres at Jennifer Lane, enough land to build 22 affordable houses.
On May 6, 2012, the first partner family moved home to Jennifer Lane. Since then, eight other families have moved into highly energy efficient, soundly-built, decent, affordable houses in the Jennifer Lane neighborhood. By summer 2018, we will begin construction of our ninth house at Jennifer Lane.
All the homes come with deed restrictions that make them permanently affordable for future homebuyers. The deed restrictions are made possible by funds granted by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for each house in the development.
Infrastructure work at Jennifer Lane was made possible through a generous contribution from the James and Irene Hunter Foundation. Without that gift, Bennington County Habitat would not have been able to take on a project of this magnitude.
A private developer, Vermont Traditional Builders, is building a house on one of the Jennifer Lane lots and will sell that house at no profit to a family whose annual income is no greater than 125% of the median income for Bennington County. The house will carry a deed restriction making it perpetually affordable. Upon sale of the house to an income-qualifying family, Vermont Traditional Builders will pay Bennington County Habitat $50,000 for the purchase of the lot. We hope to form similar partnerships with other private developers.
The Town of Manchester’s idea for affordable housing has been made possible, in part, by Bennington County Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program. More than a decade after Town Manager Webster first mentioned there was land available on Jennifer Lane, eight families have partnered with Bennington County Habitat and numerous supporters of affordable homeownership to buy truly affordable homes in Manchester Center.
North Branch Street
The Town of Bennington is in desperate need of affordable housing for the people who make a living there. Many workers live elsewhere (for example, across the border in New York State) and commute into Bennington because the cost of living is too high compared to what people are able to earn in wages.
In order to afford a two-bedroom fair market rental in Bennington, one needs to earn $19.52 per hour, or $39,520 per year. The average rent is $988, and many landlords require a first month, last month and security deposit. The annual Out of Reach report released in June 2017 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition outlines these statistics and explains the Housing Wage Gap. The Housing Wage is defined as “the hourly wage a family must earn, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to be able to afford the rent and utilities for a safe and modest home in the private housing market.” The term “affordable” is defined as paying no more than 30% of income on housing. According to the Out of Reach report, the estimated mean renter wage in Vermont is $12.51 per hour. Bennington County renters, therefore, are left with a gap of $7.01 in hourly wages just to afford a place to live. People who earn between 30% and 60% of the area median income in Bennington County ($63,200 in 2017) struggle to pay rent and certainly cannot afford to be homeowners. We partner with people in this income bracket to turn affordable homeownership into their reality.
We now own three adjacent lots on North Branch Street (296, 320 and 334 North Branch Street) in the Town of Bennington. We demolished the blighted house at 296 North Branch and removed the trailer at 320 North Branch. We also rehabbed the existing residence at 334 North Branch and sold it to a partner family through our homeownership program. Energy efficiency work was the affiliate’s main concern at this house, which we believe was built in the 1930s. Through the hard work of volunteers, the energy efficiency work completed on the rehab resulted in a 58.9% air sealing reduction and an estimated 44% of total heat savings.
Mance Engineering prepared a Development Sketch Plan for the three North Branch Street lots. Based on this plan, seven families will be able to move into affordable single-family homes in this development. Six of these families will purchase newly constructed homes, and one will own the rehab house. These families will be income-qualified as Habitat partner families. We intend to keep these houses perpetually affordable to people earning less than the area median income. The Town of Bennington approved the Site Plan for this new development in August 2016.
We began construction of our first single-family house with the Kornn family at the end of May 2016, and the family moved home in April 2017. We began our second house in the development in fall 2016 through an exciting partnership with the Southwest Career Development Center. The students of the CDC’s Building and Trades Division, under the able direction of Instructor Brian Coon, are building this house and will complete it in the 2017-2018 school year. The house will be sold to an income-qualified family through our Habitat homeownership program. The Forestry and Heavy Equipment Division of the CDC had a hand in preparing the development for infrastructure and road work.
Through the summer of 2017, Mark Onorato Excavating put in the infrastructure and road (Corcoran’s Way) for the North Branch Street Development. By late August 2017, we were able to start construction of the third house in the development, in partnership with the Palmer family.
As of summer 2017, Bennington County Habitat for Humanity has built twenty-one new single-family houses, completely renovated one house, and rehabbed another house. In partnership with income-qualified families, we have provided homeownership opportunities all over the county, in Arlington, Bennington, North Bennington, Manchester, Pownal, Shaftsbury, West Pawlet, and West Rupert. The Jennifer Lane neighborhood in Manchester was our first large-scale development, with a total of 22 lots designated by Town Permit for affordable housing. The North Branch Street development in Bennington is the affiliate’s second largest project and will be home to seven families when completed.