For Marge Forant, the state-of-the-art, 30-unit building at 60 Bombardier Rd. is a homecoming.
Elm Place, Cathedral Square’s newest affordable senior housing project, celebrated its grand opening Monday. Outside, Forant addressed a crowd of fellow residents, housing and finance representatives and local and state officials including Gov. Phil Scott.
Once a Milton resident, Forant was living at another Cathedral Square project in Burlington when she learned of plans for Elm Place.
“When I found out they were building a place down here, I said, ‘Oh boy, I’m going home,’” she said Monday, tears welling. “And here I am. I’m home.”
Elm Place is Burlington-based nonprofit Cathedral Square’s first project in Milton, now home to dozens of seniors who donned nametags emblazoned with “I LIVE HERE!” at Monday’s gathering.
Next to speak was Don Carr, another Elm Place resident and a Cathedral Square bus driver for five years. A veteran, Carr vouched for Cathedral Square’s SASH program – Support and Services at Home – which first helped him through “a bad flashback” several years ago.
SASH was there again when Carr was diagnosed with cancer a year later, and again after that when his wife died.
“SASH is very important to me, as it should be to you,” he told the crowd.
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke highly of the nationally recognized program during his visit to Elm Place last month, noting its effectiveness in helping seniors age in place while also
defraying Medicare costs.
And while SASH conserves healthcare expenditures, the building conserves energy: Elm Place is the first multi-family facility in the state to be built to super-efficient “passive house” standards. Heating the entire building requires about as much energy as for a single-family home.
As such, a traditional ribbon cutting was eschewed for the snipping of a power cord at the building’s threshold.
To Gov. Scott, oversized scissors in hand, Elm Place is “the wave of the future.” He applauded developers for meeting such strict energy standards with innovative design and highly efficient insulation, especially, he said, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris Accord.
“As we move forward, it’s going to be up to us and other states to work together on projects like this that lead us forward to address climate change,” Scott said. “This is a concept, if you think about it, that both conservatives and liberals can agree upon.”
He went on to praise the legislature’s passing of a $35 million housing bond he recommended in his original budget proposal. The package will also serve as an economic stimulus, he said, calling downtowns and historic villages “some of the best investments we can make.”
Milton is making progress there, Peoples United Bank vice president Art Casavant said after traversing the town’s main thoroughfare.
“To see the filled storefronts from Hannaford to Aubuchon right down to our branch is a wonderful thing, and you guys should feel good about that,” he said.
Peoples United was a major financer for Elm Place, which saw 75 percent of its $8.5 million funding in the form of low-income housing tax credits. Peoples United purchased the tax credits and provided over $5 million in construction funding, Cathedral Square CEO Kim Fitzgerald said.
Funding also came from Vermont Housing Finance Agency, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, all of which had representatives speak at Monday’s ceremony.
VHCB executive director Gus Seelig disclosed the project spent an extra 2 percent to achieve passive house certification, a feat he considered well worth it.
“It’s not just about cost, it’s also about value,” Seelig said. “We’re adding value, and we need to keep that in mind.”
Together, officials from housing and energy sectors and municipal and state government represented a network of partners critical to Elm Place’s success.
“It takes a village to build a property like this,” Fitzgerald said.
That started with Cathedral Square development director Cindy Reid. Elm Place is her first completed project at the nonprofit. When she saw a need for affordable housing in Milton, she contacted “go-to guy” Don Turner.
Turner spoke as acting town manager at Monday’s gathering, but locals also know him as Milton Fire & Rescue chief, state representative and realtor.
In fact, it was Turner who brokered the deal between property owners Roger “Gil” Rugg, Milton Church of Christ and New Life Christian Fellowship to piece together the 1.73-acre lot needed for the project. Last May, Elm Place broke ground on the land ceded from those three parcels.
“Welcome home to Milton,” Turner said Monday. “We’ve got a lot going on here.”
Guests were invited to tour the building’s amenities, which include a community lounge and kitchen, laundry facilities, an exercise room, underground parking, gardens and 600-square-foot apartments.
Affordability guidelines for 28 of the units require yearly income at or below $35,280 for a single person or $40,320 for a couple, marketing materials show.
Elm Place is fully occupied, and Cathedral Square’s waiting list in Chittenden and Franklin counties has around 800 names.
“While we celebrate these 30 homes today, we’re working in earnest to create more communities just like this to help support the growing number of seniors around Vermont,” Fitzgerald said.
VEIC executive director Scott Johnstone said Elm Place residents’ obvious pride for their new home should be “the standard we’re all shooting for” in future projects.
Similarly, VHCB’s Seelig said his board considers a central question after receiving an application for funding: “Can you envision at the end of the day when the project is built that someone you love is gonna be happy to live there?”
Resident Karen Trombley answered that query. Elm Place has been the Chester native’s first experience with communal living after her husband died five years ago, and “the loneliness was more than I could bear,” she said.
Trombley moved into Elm Place at her daughter’s behest and never looked back. Today, she’s officially changed her address, registered to vote here and obtained a Milton Public Library card. Her move has been a frequent topic of conversation, she said, and she especially enjoys answering one recurrent question: “What’s it like?”
“I reply, ‘It’s like being in a four-star hotel with my own stuff,’” she said to laughter. “Recently I was asked, why didn’t it meet five-star standards? My answer: No pool.”