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Norwich Collaborates on Tiny Houses in Barre

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The Lift 2.0 Tiny House is officially given it's certificate of occupancy and turned over to Down Street Housing. Photo courtesy of Norwich University

NORTHFIELD – Faculty and students from Norwich University’s Design+Build Collaborative today joined partners Downstreet Housing & Community Development and Washington County Mental Health Services to celebrate the siting and occupation of the second of two affordable, energy-efficient tiny houses called LIFT in Barre City.

The “Home for the Holidays” press conference, which featured a wreath hanging and a walk-through/house tour, showcased the second LIFT house, designed and built by Norwich University students and faculty and celebrated the completion of the two tiny houses and next-door renovated house into two apartments.

Norwich’s Design+Build Collaborative partnered with Downstreet and Washington County Mental Health Services to create safe, healthy, affordable, and sustainable homes for vulnerable Vermonters. Two new, custom-designed, energy-efficient small homes (approximately 300 square feet) now occupy a once-vacant downtown Barre City lot where blighted, deteriorating housing once stood.

The first LIFT house was sited and occupied in January 2020. Both LIFT houses were enabled by grant support from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®, and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Former Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon and his wife, Karen, donated the land.

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Norwich Design+Build Collaborative Director Cara Armstrong hangs a wreath at the new tiny house in Barre on Dec. 17, 2020. Photo courtesy of Norwich University

Housing vouchers are paired with the dwellings to serve people who have mental illness, are at high risk of homelessness, or both, or who are now homeless. A Washington County Mental Health Services clinic stands less than a mile away.

McKenzie DeBruin, a class of 2021 Master of Architecture student who worked on the project said, “I’m a big advocate for community projects. And not only is this a project for the community, but it was also a project sourced by our community. The raw materials, the collaborators for this project all came from a close radius.”

“Growing up, working, and earning my education in all very small communities, that networking and collaboration is very important to me,” she added. “It’s how we continue to build strong communities.”

“It’s such a privilege to play a role in someone getting a real home for the holidays — it’s a human capital investment, community improvement plan, and public health initiative all rolled into one,” said Cara Armstrong, the Design+Build Collaborative director. “Projects like these show that Norwich’s Design+Build Collaborative is about more than just making structures; it’s about building communities.” 

Norwich architecture professors Tolya Stonorov and Danny Sagan led a group of students in designing and building the first home to meet the needs of Downstreet, Washington County Mental Health Services, and residents and provided the construction documents to Downstreet for future buildings. Civil engineering professor Mark Atwood and a group of construction management and engineering students used these documents to build the adjacent second home, which was completed during the fall semester.

For this project, Downstreet will provide project development and property management, maintaining and ensuring that the home environments meet the residents’ needs. Washington County Mental Health Services will work with colleagues and partners to maximize wrap-around services to ensure residents have a thriving living experience.

Downstreet Executive Director Eileen Peltier said, “This project is an innovative approach to providing much needed housing for a vulnerable population. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Norwich and WCMHS to create something that can be a model for statewide replication.”

Washington County Mental Health Services Executive Director Mary Mouton called the project, “a partnership of caring organizations and caring, talented individuals.”

“We are especially thankful for the Norwich students who put their skills to work to build this home,” she continued. Regarding the peer support and wrap-around services available to the home occupants, Moulton shared this sentiment from the gentleman who is moving into the new LIFT house. He said, “It is great to finally be living independently but still have support if I should need it. It is another step toward full independence.” 

About Norwich University’s Design+Build Collaborative

As the only university in northern New England to offer integrated, professionally accredited programs in Architecture, Business, Engineering, Construction, Cybersecurity, and Nursing, Norwich’s Design+Build Collaborative calls on students to “act as well as conceive” and create solutions for local, regional, and global challenges. For more than 20 years, the Collaborative’s students have been addressing Vermont community needs through the construction of full-scale projects. Building on the eight different affordable housing prototypes Norwich has developed since 2011, the Collaborative not only continues to design and prototype regionally informed, resilient housing, but also organizes and coordinates related research and programs between the schools that make up the College of Professional Schools and partners with community organizations.

The Collaborative was created through a $200,000 grant from the TD Charitable Foundation last February. In the fall, the TD Charitable Foundation contributed an additional $20,000 to produce another LIFT house.

About Downstreet Housing & Community Development

Downstreet Housing & Community Development exists to eradicate the systemic housing challenges that affect Central Vermont citizens and communities. As Central Vermont’s leading provider of affordable housing, Downstreet’s mission is to strengthen the communities of Central Vermont by engaging with people, providing affordable homes, and connecting people to the resources and services they need to thrive. Since 1987, Downstreet has served Lamoille, Washington, and Orange counties through programs and services that include developing and providing affordable apartment rentals; home-repair loans; down-payment assistance for homebuyers; financial wellness education; at-home support services for elderly and disabled adults; and real estate development consulting services. Downstreet constantly seeks to create new solutions and opportunities that will lift up our most vulnerable Vermonters and desperately close the housing gaps that exist today. Downstreet is part of the NeighborWorks network seeking to create opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives, and strengthen their communities. www.downstreet.org

About Washington County Mental Health Services

Washington County Mental Health Services is a comprehensive community mental health center providing mental health and developmental services throughout the Washington County community. Over 8,000 individuals are served annually by this private, nonprofit organization with main offices in South Barre, Vermont. In 2018, Washington County Mental Health Services was recognized as a Center of Excellence by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide advocacy and practice improvement organization. Washington County Mental Health Services is a major employer in central Vermont, with over 800 full and part-time staff.