By Andy Robinson
According to its website, the Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) is a “mission-driven, community-focused alternative lender.” Over 36 years, it has loaned more than $125 million to Vermont businesses, nonprofit organizations, early care providers, and developers of affordable housing. The VCLF’s funds are provided by individual investors, institutions, communities of faith, and philanthropists.
The VCLF has always been based in downtown Montpelier. Over the years, it has loaned money to a variety of Montpelier and Barre businesses. When asked which local borrowers were affected by the floods this summer, executive director Will Belongia offers a very partial list.
“Downstreet Housing told all their residents on Elm Street to leave. MobiTech was flooded. North Branch Winery had to cancel all their events. Studio Place Arts had water and mud in the basement.”
The VCLF’s building, which sits right beside the North Branch on School Street, was swamped. Based on previous experience, the organization carries flood insurance for furniture and contents, and “our landlord, Pat Malone, has been very responsive,” Belongia says. Until they can get back into the building, which could take weeks or months, staff members are working from home and borrowed office space. “All things considered,” he adds, “we are relatively lucky.”
Will they return? “Well, we’ve got eight more years on the lease, so yes — I think we’ll be back.”
When asked about how the flood might change their loan criteria, he shares a story. “Years ago,” he says, “we insisted that a borrower in a vulnerable location get flood insurance as a condition of their loan. They complained, ‘It’s so expensive. It’s so hard to get.’ We held firm, so they obtained insurance. Which turned out to be a really good thing.”
“Going forward with other borrowers, do we require flood insurance? Will insurance companies offer these policies? It’s an open question.”
When asked about the future of downtown Montpelier, Belongia took a deep breath. “This is very difficult for landlords. Will rents go up? Will the district become less affordable?” He’s worried about the fact that the typical recovery funds are Small Business Administration loans, and “I don’t know how many businesses can take on more debt.”
His biggest concern? “All the incentives are to reopen these buildings quickly, rather than
spending the time and money on mitigation. That’s a problem.”
Having supported businesses through previous floods and, more recently, the COVID pandemic, Belongia marvels at their resiliency. “They can be tenacious,” he says. “That’s the nature of being an entrepreneur. It takes a lot for them to give up. They take the punch and roll with it.”
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