Brattleboro has a fabulous art community and a solid food coop. The people here are friendly and even helpful. The historic brick buildings that line the downtown streets resemble parts of London, England. Get out your camera. Take photographs. Visit the sites. Just don’t try to move here.
Why? The demand for rental housing far outweighs available housing. Some of the available apartments look much better in the Craigslist posts than they do in reality. And do you really want to live in a grey and white apartment with ratty carpet and tiny kitchens during the dark winter months? Most of the apartments don’t have access to a washer and dryer. Do you want to haul laundry to a laundry mat during the snow and ice season which is six months out of the year?
The rents are also starting to rise past the $1.5K mark, yet the median income here is around $40K to $50K. If a legitimate apartment rents for under $1K, the open house will draw at least 20 prospective renters. While Brattleboro is not the poorest city in Vermont, it does have immense poverty which you mainly see along Putney Road on the way out of Brattleboro.
You’ll also find slum houses and apartment buildings sandwiched between gorgeous historic homes. I’m told the best laundry mat is in West Brattleboro. The one in town, Canal Laundry is a dive with sketchy people. And the dryers won’t dry your clothing no matter how many swipes you do of a stupid plastic card (which you pay a $1.00 for). The other laundry mat off Putney Road didn’t look any better.
I arrived in Brattleboro on April 7. I thought if I was diligent in my search, I would rent an apartment in a month. This wasn’t the case. When I arrived here I had $5K in my savings. This isn’t the case any longer after staying at a hotel and temporary rentals. At one point, I had to travel to Massachusetts because there were no temporary rentals or hotel rooms available. None. Later, I found out about local bed and breakfasts. I wished I had known about them before. They at least offer breakfast whereas the Air BnB places don’t unless you want to pay extra. There are some good deals with Air BnB but they are often booked already.
One open house for a 2-bedroom apartment attracted 60 prospective tenants. In Putney another apartment attracted 20 prospective tenants. Who are these people? Are they already staying in the area or are they traveling from other cities and states? And if they are from the area, where the heck are they staying since there’s not much in the way of temporary rentals? Many must be couch surfing. And at least one man is living in his car. If I had a van that’s where I would be living for the time being.
Don’t even bother with the drop-in shelter. You could be sleeping besides a drug dealer, felon, or pedophile in the same building. Yeah, that feels safe for a single woman who is only out of housing because the housing situation in Brattleboro sucks. There are barrier shelters but that involves signing up with a caseworker. And that’s a good solution for someone who is dealing with obstacles outside of economics. This isn’t what entrepreneurs, artists, or other professionals require. They need stable housing. End of story. They are here to work, build the local economy, and pay taxes.
I had given this some thought. What if a developer joined up with a non-profit or innovators and built micro apartments for entrepreneurs and people who have come here to work? The micro apartments could also include a coop workspace so that the entrepreneurs could network and collaborate. These apartments would be rented out by the week or the month at affordable rates while the tenants check out the area or search for permanent housing. There are currently coop spaces for working, but there are no micro apartments for workers. If you look back, American industries used to provide housing for its workers, especially post WW2.
By providing housing to people who are here to work or to build a business, this takes pressure off the subsidized housing that usually is earmarked for seniors, disabled people, and people trying to get off substances.
Vermonters have come up with good ideas in the past. There are a lot of social services here but how effective are they? How many people get off drugs and stay off? How many people are able to receive education and training so they re-enter the workforce? And when will employers lift the mandates imposed on their workers? Will there ever be hospitals to house people with mental health challenges? That seems like the compassionate thing to do instead of lumping these folks in with people seeking permanent housing. Yeah, I know, President Reagan closed all the mental hospitals across the US. Thanks, Ronald.
Brattleboro does some things right. The people here support their local businesses and artists. They shop at the food coop and farmers market. They compost and recycle when possible, but it’s not always possible. Many fine local products come from Brattleboro–mainly artisan food, but also pottery, soap, and natural products. The people here are also vibrant, original, and engaging. The business owners are astute and good conversationalists. Plus, the shops and cafes are unique. They are enjoyable to visit.
But Brattleboro requires more housing for everyone. It requires more reliable public transportation and more taxi services. Maybe this will solve the traffic problem too. And it needs a reassessment of how to address the drug and alcohol problems the city faces, especially since drug overdoses have risen across the nation since the pandemic.
Don’t move to Brattleboro until these problems are addressed. Otherwise, you’re going to get sucked into the drama and that’s not why anyone chooses to move to bucolic Vermont.
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