Vermont Community Foundation Invests in Springfield’s Woolson Block
The Vermont Community Foundation has made a significant mission investment to ensure that the historic Woolson Block in downtown Springfield is renovated to offer quality affordable housing and commercial retail space on the banks of the Black River. The renovated Woolson Block will be another anchor for the significant revitalization already taking place in Springfield.
Development plans for the mixed-use structure include more than 5,000 square feet of retail space on the street level, plus 12,000 square feet of residential space that include 15 rental apartments designated for a mix of households, all with incomes at or below 60% of the area’s median income. There also will be four single-room-occupancy and service-enriched units for homeless and at-risk youth between the ages of 18 and 24 with incomes at or below 50% of the area’s median income. The transitional program will provide a structured environment for the young adults to help them develop the skills and habits they need to live independently.
Photos of the Woolson Block from the early 1900s depict a busy, well-kept building at the corner of Main and Park streets in the heart of Springfield. In more recent years, the structure has fallen into disrepair. In many ways, it’s a symbol of the challenges many Vermont downtowns face, and the encouraging rejuvenation that is now taking place.
“The Woolson Block represents great hope and potential not only for Springfield, but for cities and towns across Vermont,” said Dan Smith, president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation. “To truly impact the opportunity gap, we must listen and respond to the needs of communities around our state, making place-based investments that support our youth and families while directly addressing housing and other root causes of inequity.”
The Vermont Community Foundation invested $250,000 in the Woolson Block to fill a critical funding gap that prevented Housing Vermont and the Springfield Housing Authority (co-general partners and managers) from being able to finance the project.
“Thanks to the Community Foundation’s generous investment, we’re now able to move forward with placing at-risk youth in a structured environment so that they’re able to develop the skills and habits needed to live independently,” said Nancy Owens, president of Housing Vermont. “This unrestricted investment will have a major impact on the quality of the construction and renovation; the sustainability of its long-term operations; and the reserves, contingencies, and guarantees that ensure success and allow us to start building.”
In Windsor County, the vacancy rate for apartment rentals is a mere 1.3%. This means that only one or two out of every 100 units are available for rent, and they’re not necessarily affordable. Finding stable, reasonably priced, and quality housing for at-risk youth and struggling families can have a very positive ripple effect for communities that want to revitalize their downtowns.
Housing Vermont and the Springfield Housing Authority understand that financing and building affordable housing is critical, and the two organizations have previously collaborated in downtown Springfield. After a 2008 fire destroyed the Ellis Block, the community partnership renovated the structure (located across from the Woolson Block) that now houses nine affordable one-bedroom apartments plus Springfield Cinemas 3.
“The Woolson Block represents a significant step in the reinvention of Springfield from the old machine tool factory days to a modern infrastructure that attracts and retains younger people to our beautiful downtown where they can live safely and affordably,” said Bill Morlock, the executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority. “Both the housing and commercial spaces will contribute directly to Springfield’s continued economic revitalization through property tax revenue, the provision of goods and services, and new affordable housing.”
The Vermont Community Foundation believes that place-based mission investments are a fundamental tool to revitalize Vermont downtowns and to help close the opportunity gap. In 2018, the Community Foundation also invested in Bennington’s Putnam Block to ensure a thriving downtown area for generations to come. In both Bennington and Springfield, the desire to build more housing in the downtown areas was inspired by and came directly from the wishes of the local community.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the Woolson Block will be scheduled for later this fall, with renovations estimated to be completed in June 2020.
About Housing Vermont
Housing Vermont, a nonprofit syndication and development company founded in 1988, creates permanently affordable rental housing and enables investments in economic and community development to benefit Vermonters through partnerships with local organizations, public agencies and the private sector. This highly successful partnership has produced 6,000 affordable apartments in 180 developments. Housing Vermont has raised and deployed $360 million in private equity, which has leveraged an additional $470 million in private financing and public investment. Housing Vermont's New Markets Tax Credit program, Vermont Rural Ventures, has created favorable financing in excess of $128.3 million for 15 economic development projects in low income areas. For more information, visit hvt.org or call 802-863-8424.
About Springfield Housing Authority
The Springfield Housing Authority is dedicated to providing the Springfield community with quality affordable housing. It participates in the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and other public housing programs. In October 2016, the Springfield Housing Authority secured site control of the Woolson Block and enlisted Housing Vermont as a partner. The two organizations had worked together previously to restore the Ellis Block, a historic theater with residential housing in downtown Springfield. For more information, visit springfieldhousingauthorityvt.org or call 802-885-4905.