‘Conspiracy of goodwill’: Community celebrates tiny house project | Local News

BARRE — A prototype of a tiny house as one solution for tackling homelessness and mental illness was hailed on Tuesday at a celebration of the project.

Designed and built by Norwich University students, the LIFT house is a 360-square-foot, energy-efficient home for a homeless person with mental health issues who would not fit in well in an apartment complex or shared-living housing situation. The students named the project the LIFT house with the idea that the concept and structure itself could help lift someone out of a difficult situation.

The front of the house features a broader opening, with a kitchen and room for a sofa and table. The roof slopes down toward the back of the house, which includes a bathroom with a washer and dryer and a walk-in shower, and a bedroom with room for a queen-sized bed and full closet.

Energy efficiency is a key part of the project, with a tight building envelope, cellulose-insulated walls, triple-glaze windows and a high-efficiency heat pump and ventilation system. The installation of solar panels would make the building net-zero in terms of energy efficiency. It is estimated it cost about $75,000 to build the house but it is expected costs could be reduced for future buildings.

The tiny house is situated on Brook Street in Barre City donated by former Barre mayor Thomas Lauzon, where a second, similar house will be sited after its completion by Norwich University students at the end of summer.

Last April, when the house was still under construction, Lauzon floated the idea of mass-producing the houses. On Tuesday, reaffirmed his offer, saying he had factory space in downtown Barre ready to expand the project. Other project partners said they would first need to assess the success of the prototype and its partner before “scaling up” the project.

The project is a collaboration between Norwich University students, who designed and built the house; the Department of Mental Health, which will a provide housing vouchers for the occupant; Washington County Mental Health Services, which will provide tenant support; Downstreet Housing and Development, which creates affordable housing projects; and the developer, Lauzon.

Additional support came from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and TD Bank, which gave Norwich University $200,000 for its architectural affordable-home building program.

On Tuesday, TD Bank announced an additional award of $20,000 toward the cost of completing the second tiny house to be completed this year.

The celebration of the first tiny house was held at Downstreet Housing and Community Development in Barre.

Outgoing Norwich President Rich Schneider welcomed project partners.

“Today’s celebration of the LIFT house, which is the latest affordable housing project completed by the Norwich University Design and Build Collaborative … is a great melding of community power,” Schneider said.

Schneider noted that the “vision” for the project would not have happened without the resources provided, and credited TD Bank with funding.

“That gift allowed us to put all of this together,” Schneider said.

Schneider also credited the work of NU’s Design and Build Collaborative that brought different disciplines together for the project, including architecture, engineering, business, nursing and cyber-security information systems.

“When you think about creating something like this, it takes all those different talents to make the project a success,” Schneider said. “The power and the importance of the collaborative cannot be overstated, unifying our students, unifying our faculty and unifying our community partners.”

Phil Daniels, market president of TD Bank, also credited the “mosaic” of community partners on the project “to benefit those in our community who are in need.”

Aron Temkin, dean of the College of Professional Schools at Norwich, echoed gratitude for TD Bank’s investment in the project that also supported the university’s Design and Build Collaborative program. Temkin noted that the tiny house was the seventh housing project by the collaborative to support communities in Vermont, ranging in size from 200 to 1,000 square feet, as a response to the flood damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

“They’re not only affordable, but they’re thoughtful, they’re efficient, they’re resilient,” Temkin said.

Eileen Peltier, executive director of Downstreet Housing and Community Development, said the two tiny houses and two apartments in a nearby former single-family home on Brook Street were reason for celebration.

“The apartments will provide homes for previously homeless individuals with mental illness and each home comes with a rental voucher,” Peltier said. “The Brook Street project exemplifies three important values for Downstreet House and Community Development and the people we serve here in central Vermont.”

Peltier also credited partners in the project, adding: “Today, we can be proud to say we have created four new homes for out most vulnerable neighbors.”

Mary Moulton, executive director of Washington County Mental Health Services, noted support for the project that included housing vouchers to help support homeless people with mental health issues.

Moulton added that it was hoped that people served by the project would go on to be part of a peer program “to give back” by working with others in a similar situation.

“We really believe in the peer model, the model of people who have walked the walk, people who understand the experience of homelessness and of receiving services for their mental health needs, to support those who will live in the tiny houses,” Moulton said. “We will be watching that progress and process to see how successful it is.”

Gus Seelig, executive director of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, noted earlier collaborative efforts by Capstone Community Action, Lauzon and Downstreet Housing and Community Development that were supported by Gov. Phil Scott’s housing revenue bond for affordable housing projects, including the LIFT house, which met a criterium to be innovative.

This is a substantial home … it’s built to be energy-efficient and to be durable, and I think that’s really important,” Seelig said, declaring it “a conspiracy of goodwill.”

Project architect Tolya Stonorov, an assistant professor of architecture at Norwich — who also designed the NEST play space recently installed at Union Elementary School in Montpelier — said the design team was inspired by the idea “of lifting people out of a challenging situation.”

The LIFT house was built by 16 NU architecture students, including Richard Pearce, 22, of Easton, Massachusetts, who graduated last year and is now studying for his master’s in architecture.

“We designed it so that it go anywhere and be on any site,” Pearce said.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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