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After Long Legal Battle, Affordable Housing Project Opens In Woodstock

Charlotte Albright
Dignitaries gathered at Safford Commons in Woodstock for a ribbon cutting marking the opening of the long-awaited affordable housing complex.

The first affordable housing project for the affluent Upper Valley town of Woodstock was officially opened Tuesday. The Safford Commons project has been a long time coming in an area where demand is high.

The 28 energy-efficient apartments are clustered in multi-colored cottage-like dwellings on the site of a former Grange Hall not far from Woodstock High School. Abutters to the land fought the project for over a decade, saying that duplexes and triplexes would mar the natural setting. But they lost their court battle. 

“There’s nothing to fight, and there’s nothing to fear, because in Vermont we do it right,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin before triumphantly cutting a shiny ribbon strung across one of the front porches.

Funding for the $9.5 million complex came from a patchwork of public and private sources, including the Woodstock Community Trust. President Patsy Highberg said persistence and multiple partnerships have paid dividends for tenants now living affordably in an area where the cost of living is high.

“The length of our battle makes these homes around us even more unbelievable as we stand here today to welcome new and current residents to our community,” Highberg told the audience gathered under a tent.

Rents range from $600 for a subsidized 1-bedroom unit to $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment at market price. Donna Crawford happily moved here from New Jersey with her mother after her father died. He had once been a businessman in Springfield, Vermont.

"The length of our battle makes these homes around us even more unbelievable as we stand here today to welcome new and current residents to our community." - Patsy Highberg, Woodstock Community Trust president

"He died in August so we decided to move back up home, bring mom back home. And ... yes, she lives with me, she's 88,” Crawford said, smiling.

The entire housing complex was fully rented in about 10 days. Andrew Winter, director of Twin Pines Housing Trust, which manages the property, says housing demand still outstrips supply.

"And unfortunately the bad news is that we’ve got a really long wait list of over 40 families that are trying to get in here that won’t be able to," said Winter.

Eventually Safford Commons hopes to add four more units. Meanwhile, Winter says, Twin Pines is expanding affordable housing in other locations, including Hartford. The rental vacancy rate in the Upper Valley is very low, between 1 and 2 percent.

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