Affordable housing to be ready for June (10/15/09)

Oct. 15, 2009

Apartment complex receives building permit

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Construction on Williston’s newest apartment building — which will offer 31 units of affordable housing — is scheduled to begin this month.

The apartment complex, the first to be built in Williston in “recent memory,” according to Planning Director Ken Belliveau, is part of the larger Hamlet subdivision located off Zephyr Road. Construction on the Hamlet began in 2006, mostly with single-family homes, duplexes and condominiums.

“The goal of this project was to meet all kinds of housing options, and we have done that,” said project developer Brett Grabowski of Burlington-based Milot Real Estate.

The apartment building is scheduled to be “up and running” by June 1, he said.

As proposed to town planners, the Hamlet will have a total of 110 housing units completed when all is said and done. Thirty-three of those — or 30 percent of the project — must be perpetually affordable housing, according to an agreement between Milot Real Estate, Housing Vermont and the town.

“It’s a very unique situation in that we’ve been able to do this in this way,” Grabowski said.

To be perpetually affordable, the apartments must not cost more than 30 percent of the median household income in Chittenden County, according to the agreement. In essence, residents should not be spending more than 30 percent of their income on rental fees. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site, Chittenden County’s median household income was a little more than $58,000 in 2007. Grabowski estimates the income level has risen to the low $60,000s in recent years.

He said renters of the apartments should expect to pay between $1,350 to $1,550 per month. The rental fees will include heat, hot water and electricity. Grabowski said he’s developed similar apartment buildings in South Burlington’s Olde Orchard Park. There are 210 dwelling units at that location, he said.

As part of the affordable housing agreement, Milot Real Estate, under the name Village Associates Inc., must each year provide Housing Vermont with a price list of current rental rates along with a list of new renters’ income levels. Housing Vermont will then check both lists to make sure it complies with the definition of affordable housing.

Grabowski said there are some common misconceptions in regards to affordable housing.

“The problem with labeling it affordable housing is that instantly people think it’s low-income housing,” he said. “That’s not the case.”

In fact, nearly every unit built in the Hamlet so far falls under Housing Vermont’s perpetually affordable housing agreement, according to Grabowski. The condominiums, duplexes and single-family homes, all under 2,000 square-feet, sell for between $200,000 and $299,000.

Belliveau said it’s likely been close to 20 years since any new apartment buildings have been built in Williston. The residential units at Maple Tree Place, managed by the Champlain Housing Trust, fall under the definition of townhomes.

The Hamlet apartment building will also have Williston’s first underground parking garage. Grabowski said plans call for 30 aboveground parking spaces, and 30 belowground spaces. Other subdivisions scheduled for development, including Finney Crossing and Cottonwood Crossing, are planned to have underground parking as well.

Besides the apartment complex, 18 more units are still scheduled for completion in the Hamlet. Two of those units will have to fall under the rules of the affordable housing agreement, Grabowski said.

Belliveau said the Hamlet’s plans fit into the town plan, especially in terms of affordable housing.

“Anytime you can have affordable units integrated or mixed in with market-rate housing, that’s really the ideal,” he said.