By: Roberta Nubile

Published in: Vermont Woman June 2007

Cathedral Square Corporation (CSC) develops and manages throughout Vermont for almost 1,000 elders, persons with disabilities, and low income persons and families.

“CSC builds communities and is invested in making the best possible experience for residents,” says Kim Fitzgerald, director of operations. Fitzgerald monitors feedback from residents and alters CSC’s services accordingly.

CSC’s goal of mixing ages, incomes, and abilities is not always achievable. Federal and state funding often dictates that people have the same income and characteristics, and in this way, segregation can be the end result. But there are creative ways to achieve greater diversity and as some residents have expressed a desire to “mix it up” more, CSC is responding.

In 2006 CSC, in conjunction with the Champlain Housing Trust (formerly Burlington Community Land Trust) and the City of South Burlington, received Vermont’s Forum on Sprawl Smart Growth Aware (see sidebar) for its recent project O’Dell Parkway Neighborhood in South Burlington. This neighborhood, located off Shelburne Road near I-89, is pedestrian-friendly, with a mix of market-rate, senior, and affordable housing. It is a particularly attractive option for seniors who want to live independently, with access to services and stores, but not strictly among other seniors.

Another CSC project, McAuley Square Senior Housing in Burlington, is part of a multi-generational community that also provides housing for young mothers and parents returning to school. Inspired by a Netherlands model, McAuley Square creates a natural neighborhood feel.

At Ruggles House, a CSC shared living facility for people 55, on South Prospect Street in Burlington, a resident named Lorraine attends the weekly residents meeting. “Don’t say we are a convalescent home!” she declares. On the agenda that day was a request to build a community garden – by neighbors of Ruggles House who, says property manager Michael Castelli, “have a special affection for the Ruggles House residents and want to be around them.”

In fact, convalescent home is an obsolete term that brings images of seniors in need of 24-hour nursing care, when only about five percent of the elderly population in the U.S. fits into this category. According to the National Long-Term Care Survey released in 2005, “The percentage of Medicare enrollees age 65 and older who lived in long-term care institutions such as nursing homes dropped dramatically from 7.5 percent to 4.0 percent. The emergence of assisted-living options, changes in Medicare reimbursement policies and improved rehabilitation services may have fueled this decrease in institutionalization.” Most seniors live within a wide continuum of living preferences and care needs.

At 3 Cathedral Square in Burlington, the site of CSC’s first building, which offers both independent and assisted living, full-time on-site nursing services are available on the assisted living floors.

This pleases Esther Kearney, 100 years young and someone who will change any misconceptions one might have about the elder population. Sharp-witted and thoughtful, Kearney, a former teacher, appreciates that she can depend on around-the-clock nursing care as this gives her, and her family, peace of mind. She came from her own home to 3 Cathedral Square and needed increasing nursing care, a common theme among residents. CSC offers different options for housekeeping and nursing care at different facilities.

Kearney’s friend Betty Stitzel moved here from Florida. Though she misses her lifelong friends from her military community down south, she appreciates being closer to her Vermont family, and likes the three prepared meals a day at Cathedral Square, saying she “eats better with other people around.”

CSC encourages community building, which can prevent isolation and depression in people. Standard to each house is a common room. Other amenities are beauty salons, libraries, Internet, sewing, fitness and craft rooms, woodworking shops and meditation spaces, garden sites, and full-time, weekly or monthly nursing care. Transportation services and 24-hour maintenance emergency systems are available as well. Though meals are generally independent in this type of living situation, community meals options are available in some residences.

Jill Allen lives at South Burlington Community Housing, a residence for wheelchair users of all ages who need assistance with personal care. Allen says the 24/7 on-site care allows her a greater range of freedom – she knows she can get help within minutes, rather than having to wait for things most of us take for granted, like eating or taking our coats off. She also appreciates that someone else can organize this care, and that back-up is always available.

“I came to work at Cathedral Square eight years ago because of the horizontal, not hierarchical, management,” says Nancy Eldridge, CSC’s executive director. She claims it is “happenstance” that all top five executive spots are filled by women, and she would rather talk about CSC’s history and accomplishments than analyze the gender breakdown.

“CSC started 30 years ago by the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, when the government was looking for stable non-profit sponsors to partner with to build senior housing. Church groups were one of the more stable, and more likely to be around for the 30-40 year mortgages attached to projects,” Eldridge notes. In present time, CSC has participated in the development of more than 40 affordable housing projects as developer, builder, buyer or consultant or some combination of all. Some of their many partnerships include: Brattleboro Housing Authority, Lund Family Center (see related article, page 20), and the Howard Center for Human Services.

“We are more than just property management,” says Fitzgerald. “I would call it holistic coverage – our preference is to stay as involved as we can, to protect affordability and provide services that Medicaid doesn’t cover.” Fitzgerald added that a centralized location increases efficiency by reducing duplication of services. Providing one housekeeper for eight residents requires only one employee background check, for example, rather than having eight housekeepers and requiring eight background checks.

Resident service specialist Jen Hunter visits the different properties and touches base with the resident service coordinators and residents who live there. This is one of the feed-back mechanisms that allows CSC to deal with the building and housing issues – both physical and social – that come up. By responding to feedback, says development director Amy Wright, “we are creating a home, not just a transient stepping stone as some affordable housing can be. These are places people want to live in for the long term.”

Cathedral Square Corporation recently moved to its new location on Farrell Street in South Burlington, where it shares building space with Unite Way of Chittenden County, HomeShare Vermont, and a VNA Adult Day Center. For more information about housing or consultation services, call 863-2224 or visit www.cathedralsquare.org.

Roberta Nubile is a freelance writer living in Charlotte.