The impact of Cathedral Square on the health and well-being of older Vermonters and people with disabilities

By Jess Clarke

Before Jeanne Daley moved to Thayer House, a Cathedral Square community in Burlington’s New North End, her walking ability was limited because of injuries from a fall. Four years later, she not only walks normally, she dances — an improvement she attributes to the activities and support Thayer House offers for residents.

“I thought when I moved here I’d be here for six months to a year if I was lucky,” says Daley, who’s almost 91. “I didn’t think I’d be alive. All I needed was the right encouragement around me, and this was the place. It has been the perfect thing.”

Cathedral Square’s properties have been “the perfect thing” for many people throughout Vermont since the nonprofit began 40 years ago as an initiative of Burlington’s Cathedral Church of St. Paul. That’s one reason for the growth of the innovative nonprofit, a national leader in developing affordable, or subsidized, housing for people 55 or older or with disabilities and other special needs. Cathedral Square now owns or manages nearly 30 multifamily communities housing about 1,300 people.

Over the years, Cathedral Square has evolved into a pioneering organization with a nationally acclaimed program that promotes safe aging at home and an increasing focus on special-needs housing and energy efficiency.

The first Cathedral Square community was Burlington’s Three Cathedral Square, which opened in ’79, two years after the nonprofit was established by Cathedral Church. In about the past 15 years, the organization has converted units and added assisted-living apartments at Three Cathedral Square, Vermont’s first licensed assisted-living residence. Church rector the Very Rev. Jeanne Finan is on the nonprofit’s board of directors, which is the main connection now between Cathedral Square and Cathedral Church.

Cathedral Square increasingly provides technical assistance to other housing providers and projects. That expertise, with effective management and fiscal planning, has spurred its growth.

The organization “has dogged, determined leadership,” says Gus Seelig, executive director of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, which has awarded more than $14 million to Cathedral Square for its housing communities. “They have been committed to excellence and innovation. That success has had an impact across Vermont and is rippling across our nation.”

“When people think of Cathedral Square, most of them think of elderly housing, period,” says Kim Fitzgerald, the organization’s CEO. “But we have created a handful of communities that are very unique in who they serve.”

Take South Burlington Community Housing, for example. Located on Anderson Parkway, it’s the only residence in Vermont – and one of just a handful nationwide – where adults with physical disabilities can live independently in their own apartments, come and go as they please, and be assured of 24/7 nursing assistance as needed. A partnership with the Visiting Nurse Association makes this possible.

Another Cathedral Square residence, Monroe Place near downtown Burlington, provides 15 apartments for adults living with mental health challenges and is run in collaboration with the Howard Center. Elsewhere in Burlington, Cathedral Square has two communities with 19 apartments for young mothers and children, which is run in partnership with Lund, a Burlington-based organization providing family support, including adoption services and educational programs.

With a growing need in Vermont for affordable housing for older adults — Cathedral Square’s own waiting list hovers around 800 names — the organization is moving ahead with on the development of new communities. One of the next to be built will be Allard Square in South Burlington’s new City Center area, with 39 apartments expected to open in fall 2018. After that is slated Juniper Place, part of the Cambrian Rise development at the former site of Burlington College, which will add another 70 apartments for older adults.

While CSC’s housing options vary widely, one program comes standard at all Cathedral Square properties: SASH® (Support and Services at Home), the award-winning model of health-care coordination CSC designed to help older adults “age in place,” in health and security. A demonstration modeled after SASH is being piloted nationwide by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Daley, who had trouble walking when she arrived at Thayer House, is a prime example of the benefits of SASH. She enjoyed waltzing in a recent ballroom dancing class there.

“I never thought I’d be able to dance again. Things I didn’t think I’d be doing, I’m doing more and more,” Daley says. “I feel like I’m getting younger instead of older. That’s how I am since I came here.”

Jess Clarke is a Burlington-based writer and editor. She can be reached at jessicadclarke1@gmail.com.

Continue Reading: Part 3: Cathedral Square residents share their experiences