Developer: Million-dollar taxpayer loan a “win-win” for senior apartment complex and White River Junction

A taxpayer-supported $1 million loan would help a for-profit senior apartment complex solidify its finances and begin generating jobs, tax revenues and other economic benefits for the town, says the project's executive director. 

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“It’s a win-win,” Sandy Conrad said of the $27 million assisted living complex, The Village at White River Junction. “We’re creating jobs, we’re increasing the tax base of the community … and we’re able to have some working capital with a low interest rate.”

How low? “Zero percent for the first 18 months” of a 5-year loan, if all goes as planned, said Conrad. After the initial period, the interest rate would rise as developers repaid the debt.

The loan would come through a program administered by the Vermont Community Development Program, in which a town can receive a grant to help private entities provide housing or jobs to low- and moderate-income residents.

The Village won’t offer low-income housing; the 80 apartments will offer around-the-clock assisted living and memory care to residents at a cost of between $8,400 and $10,850 per month — which developers say is the going rate in private programs. 

Those rents combined with news of the possible public loan to spark a lively social media discussion after DailyUV posted an article yesterday. Some commenters wondered why a for-profit developer would need taxpayer help to create 65 or more jobs.

“Please explain the need for the town to provide them help in hiring 65 employees?” Heather Albrecht wrote on the Town of Hartford Informational Site Facebook page. “It seems to me that a facility like this, charging the rates it will, should be able to hire for itself.”

Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar explained that the town doesn’t spend any local money, but simply administers federal money awarded by the state through a competitive process. He said the VCDP program had been used to help finance two recent projects providing affordable housing in Hartford: the Bridge & Main building downtown and a Twin Pines Housing Trust project on the VA Cutoff Road.

The loan program “is supposed to serve low and low-moderate income people,” Pullar said. That can be by providing affordable homes — or by providing jobs.

Jobs is the focus for Village at White River Junction, said Conrad. Once the complex is full, it will employ 65 or more people providing services including housekeeping, maintenance, meals, transportation and, of course, 24/7 help with medical needs, mobility and memory issues.

The jobs will start at $13 or $14 an hour and, for supervisory staff, rising into the $20-$25/hour range, she said. Many of those wage rates will qualify an employer for the state program, which calls for loan funds to “primarily benefit persons of low and moderate income.”

Why do the Village developers need help to pay those wages? They won’t after the complex is full and money is flowing in, she said, but developers expect a cash flow crunch for the first few years. 

“We need that money to bridge that gap until we get the residents in,” she said.

The Hartford Selectboard must sign off on the loan application before it is submitted to the state. When I spoke to her Tuesday, Conrad was working on the application package, which is supposed to be available for public inspection at Town Hall later this week and to be discussed with the Selectboard Aug. 22. A public hearing will follow Aug. 28, at which time the board will vote yes or no on submitting it to the state.

If Hartford endorses the application and it wins state approval, the $1 million would go into town coffers, to be drawn down and repaid over time.

Once the money is repaid, Conrad said, the town gets an extra benefit: Half the cash remains with Hartford, available for loans to other worthy projects.

Many of the potential economic benefits from the Village are in the future. “Once we get up and going and sustaining, then we have 65 more people downtown and spending money in White River Junction,” Conrad said.

But, she added, some dollars have begun to flow. “We just paid the first quarter tax bill to Hartford,” she said. “$184,000.”

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