[Hpn] Housing Crunch;Montpelier Vermont
Morgan W. Brown
Tue, 12 Dec 2000 17:20:55 -0500
Sunday, December 10, 2000
(from the Top Story section)
By STEPHEN MILLS
MONTPELIER - As temperatures dipped well below
zero last week, Goldie Fassett returned to a familiar
routine to fight the cold.
She cloaked drafty windows in plastic, bundled her two
children and cranked up the thermostat on her electric
She has been here before. Last winter gave her a taste of
what is to come: biting cold, frozen pipes and huge
The electricity bills for her apartment were so high - $471
in February alone -that she had to make a choice
between paying her rent or having no heat, light and
With her children, Dustin, 7, and Rebecca, 10, to
consider, she chose to go into the red on her rent.
Fassett's plight highlights a growing problem for many
trying to find affordable housing in the capital city. With
an extremely low vacancy rate and long waiting lists for
rentals, people like Fassett have few options. She and
others banded together in June to form ROOM (Renters
Organization of Montpelier) to address the city's chronic
The Montpelier Housing Task Force, formed a year ago,
is also working to begin regular inspections of all housing
rentals in the city, enforce housing safety codes and
prevent the conversion of scarce housing stock into
The choice between paying an electric bill or the rent is
just the tip of the iceberg for Fassett, who earns just
$224 a week. She has had numerous other problems
with the Cliff Street apartment she rents from city
landlord James Barrett for $395 a month.
Fassett said she has repeatedly asked Barrett to make
repairs and deal with her poor heating system, to no avail
since she moved in September 1999.
After Fassett fell behind in her rent because she was
paying off her heating bills, Barrett threatened to evict her
Fassett responded by complaining to the city housing
inspector about the poor condition of her apartment.
After a visit to Fassett's property in August, housing
inspector Mike Jones cited 13 violations and made
several other recommendations for urgent repairs in a
letter to Barrett. The inspector's report noted serious
structural defects, electrical problems, an inadequate
heating system, water damage, water pipes that needed
insulation to prevent freezing and other problems.
Fassett said her complaint only made matters worse for
her. Despite her promise to pay rent arrears after repairs
were made, Barrett sought a court order on Nov. 30 to
evict her for non-payment of rent totaling $1,580 for June
In court, Barrett's lawyer said many of the violations,
particularly those relating to health and safety issues, had
been rectified. Other more serious structural defects
could not be repaired with a tenant in residence, he
Despite objections from Barrett's attorney, the judge
agreed to hear a counterclaim by Fassett, asking Barrett
to make repairs and fix the heating. That claim is to be
reviewed when the hearing resumes in January.
In a surprise move last week, Barrett's attorney filed a
motion to withdraw the request for an eviction order,
saying Barrett wanted to reach an out-of-court settlement
and work with the tenant to resolve the problems with her
Barrett declined to be interviewed, referring questions to
his attorney. He said he had taken care of the violations
cited by the housing inspector.
Attorney Oliver Twombly said Barrett was "somewhat
surprised" by some of Fassett's claims in court because
she had raised problems her landlord had not previously
"He wants to take care of these problems, as he did the
first time around," Twombly said. "He has asked her what
some of the issues are, and she has been somewhat
"Everything that was of consequence was addressed," he
continued, referring to violations cited by the housing
inspector. "It was fixed by September 1."
Twombly said Barrett has been talking with a local
contractor for the past month about putting in a gas-fired
Violations that have not been rectified include failure to
insulate water pipes to prevent freezing, patch holes in
outside walls, reinforce the living room floor and repair
rotten siding and sills.
"Goldie has a lot to lose if she is made homeless," said
Central Vermont Community Action representative Susan
Wells, who is trying to help Fassett find aid to pay her
heating bills and qualify for food assistance. "She could
lose her children."
Welfare-to-work officer Joyce LeBlanc said Fassett,
who is part of the program, would have to go to a
homeless shelter if she were evicted.
Fassett said that if she went to a homeless shelter, she
would split up her children and send one to stay with a
daycare provider and the other to her mother's home.
She is concerned that if she can't provide a home for her
children, a state agency may take them away from her.
LeBlanc is working with a local agency that provides
affordable housing for people on low incomes to find
alternative accommodation for Fassett and her children.
She is also appealing for someone to come forward with
an offer of affordable housing.
In addition to the problems at Fassett's apartment,
Barrett has been cited 17 times since 1982 for other
housing violations. He owns four apartment buildings with
a total of 16 units, on Cliff Street, Court Street and Elm
Street. He also owns a commercial building on River
Rick DeAngelis, a former executive director of the
Central Vermont Community Land Trust, lives on the
same street as Fassett. He said he had heard many
complaints from Barrett's tenants.
"There are some pretty strong feelings about his property
in the neighborhood," he said. "This is the bottom of the
pile in terms of affordable apartments in Montpelier for
people who have a history of financial problems, are
competing in the marketplace, and end up in his
City councilor Jim Sheridan said the Montpelier Housing
Task Force is working to address housing problems in
There is a supreme irony in Goldie Fassett's own struggle
over the apartment she rents from Barrett.
"I used to live in the exact same house, the exact same
unit that I live in now when I was a girl at the age of 5, 25
years ago," she said. She led a visitor on a tour of the
apartment, pointing out water stains on ceilings, a rotted
bathroom floor and a hole in the outer wall where she
says rodents enter and chew on the wiring.
"I remember it had new paneling, fresh paint and it was
warm and cozy," she said. "Look at it now."
---End of forwarded article---
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-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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