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Going Home with Vermont Strong

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Staff and volunteers cleaning up property around Downstreet Housing & Community Development Barre headquarters after flood

After floodwaters damaged scarce affordable housing units in Montpelier and Barre, Downstreet Housing & Community Development faced the challenge of immediately helping affected residents and also navigating what amounted to a housing crisis within a housing crisis. “The flooding exacerbated an already serious housing shortage in Central Vermont,” said Ryan Moritz, director of development and communications at Downstreet.

The Barre-based nonprofit would receive crucial support from the Vermont Strong license plate campaign via the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund 2023 at the Vermont Community Foundation and the state’s Business Emergency Gap Assistance Program (BEGAP).

The money helped Downstreet cover unexpected costs including temporarily housing displaced residents elsewhere and making fixes to the units that were damaged in July. “We worked really quickly to make repairs to those properties so that we could get those families back home as quickly as possible,” Moritz said.  

The Vermont Community Foundation is proud to partner with the state of Vermont on the Vermont Strong License plate fundraising effort to benefit flood relief efforts. On November 20, Gov. Phil Scott announced a new, six-week holiday phase of the campaign with a goal of raising $1 million for flood-impacted families, individuals, and businesses. Since August, the effort has raised $715,000 in proceeds donated to BEGAP and the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund. Additional donations will focus on a range of needs, including support for critical repairs on flood-damaged housing and heating systems.    

Continued help is much needed. Some Vermonters still aren’t back home. They remain displaced by the floods, or if they are home, are struggling to fund and arrange repairs needed to make their flood-damaged homes or apartments safe and warm as winter sets in. Participating in the next phase of the Vermont Strong initiative can help organizations such as Downstreet continue to assist flood-affected families and create new housing in hard-hit communities. Next year the nonprofit expects to complete the conversion of a vacant school in Barre into apartments and develop a new-construction apartment project in Berlin. 

Support also will help organizations such as Downstreet build with flood resiliency in mind, a critically important aspect of the recovery effort. Two of Downstreet’s properties sustained little to no damage even after being surrounded by floodwaters during the July disaster. Both were designed to withstand flood risk, Moritz said. “The lessons we learned from the flood and the buildings that were built to be resilient can be models for us in all the work that we’re doing moving forward.”

Continued support for The Vermont Strong campaign can help Downstreet and other housing organizations bring flood-affected families back home, house people experiencing homelessness, and keep working to create stable housing so that people can thrive through the recovery and beyond. “The stability of home allows Vermonters to live their fullest lives, support their families, and achieve their goals,” Moritz said. “Without it, everything just becomes so incredibly challenging.”