With a vacancy rate hovering around 1% and prices increasing more than 20% over the past year, housing in the Upper Valley is difficult to find, especially for those people at risk of homelessness. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in White River Junction announced recently that it is embarking on an innovative approach to help serve the community while at the same time shoring up its own financial needs.
The church is teaming up with Twin Pines Housing and its next-door neighbor, The Upper Valley Haven, to build affordable housing and expand emergency shelter beds and service space for The Haven.
The three organizations have been planning this concept for almost a year. A Memorandum of Understanding between the three organizations has been approved by the Church membership and the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, and the MOU was signed by the three organizations in November.
Leslie Black, Chair of St. Paul’s planning committee explained the church’s thinking. “Before considering this project, St. Paul’s spent time considering how best to use our property in ways that acknowledged our desire to support a great need for affordable housing and services for people in need. We began by talking to The Haven and Twin Pines and realized that this project is a tremendous opportunity for the church to respond to the critical need for housing in our community and offers us new ways to envision our mission.”
The nearly two-acre lot on which St. Paul’s Church is situated will be subdivided with the majority of the property being sold to Twin Pines Housing and The Haven. St. Paul’s will retain the land around the Sanctuary and Parish Hall.
Twin Pines plans to build a supportive housing apartment building on the back part of the property housing 18 small, one-bedroom apartments. Services that would be provided to the tenants by The Haven include intensive case management and coordination of life-improving services, like health care, workforce development, and financial counseling.
Twin Pines and The Haven have collaborated on other projects in the Upper Valley, including a similar project in Lebanon completed in 2018, and have established a long working relationship. Similarly, St. Paul’s and the Haven have a long history of partnership; in fact, St. Paul’s helped found The Haven over 40 years ago.
A second part of the project will be developed by The Haven, which will build a two-story building close to its main building. The first floor would house offices and outreach services that continue to support individuals and families who are already living in the community and an outreach program to the community including people who are homeless. There would be additional space for training and community programs. The Haven’s overnight shelter, which has operated utilizing cots set up in a dining room of the main building for a number of years, will move to the second floor of the new building. The new shelter will allow guests to use the resources on the first floor during the day to focus on finding permanent housing.
“The new building will allow us to deliver services we have operated out of our main building but with a much better and more supportive setting,” said Michael Redmond, Executive Director at The Haven. “It also allows us to address the expansion of the Haven staff that has occurred over the last decade since our Hixon Adult Shelter was built.”
Twin Pines Housing Executive Director Andrew Winter added, “This project reflects how difficult it is to find affordable housing in the region. The need for emergency shelter space and affordable housing opportunities is greater than ever before. We are thrilled that St. Paul’s Church took the initiative to partner with our two organizations in this way.”
The three organizations plan to make a formal presentation to the Hartford Planning and Zoning Board of Adjustors in December, and there will be public hearings connected with their proposal in early 2022. The three organizations have also scheduled a neighborhood meeting for mid-December to answer questions about the project.
If Twin Pines is successful in getting the funding and town approvals in the coming months, construction would start sometime in 2022. The Haven could undertake a capital campaign to raise funding for the project with a target date to begin construction in 2023.
“St. Paul’s has been a neighbor to the Haven for many years, so we feel connected to the people who will be in the new housing,” said Black. “We have been comfortable sharing coffee and donuts and getting to know them after our Sunday services. Helping our neighbors is an important part of who we are as a church.”