A LIFE OF ADVOCACY
“The most significant thing about living in this co-op is very simple…It’s still affordable after all these years.”
For a stretch of meetings, when Richard Kemp sat on the Board of the Champlain Housing Trust, virtually every meeting ended with him asking, “What are we going to do to house people who are incarcerated?” The answer was, of course, that CHT does in fact house people who were ex-offenders. But the challenge was a little different: Richard wanted CHT create specific housing that would suit the needs of people unable to leave the corrections system after they had completed their sentence. This proved to be a little more difficult, and the question was an important one.
This spring, however, we are heeding Richard’s advocacy, and have housed nine parolees in a building in Burlington we’ve named “Kemp House” recognizing his longtime commitment to community justice and social equity. People moving in have come from transitional housing and able to live more independently while freeing up capacity for more ex-offenders to safely be discharged to a home with services.
“I just feel that the fact that you may be an ex-criminal, that you maybe made a mistake… That shouldn’t keep you from getting housing or a job or be accepted in our community,” explains Richard.
Longer than anywhere else he has lived, Richard has been at the Flynn Avenue Housing Cooperative in Burlington’s south end since its beginnings in 1993. After a long career that ranged from a paper mill to IBM, he had settled into retirement. The co-op’s philosophy meshes well with his values. As he says flatly, “A co-op serves the interests of the people who live there, not some profit motive.”
He – like many of us – lost long-time close friend and Flynn neighbor Marcia Mason when she passed away this year. Until recently he was just one of two remaining original members of the co-op still there after 26 years, but recent health challenges have him convalescing at a rehab facility in Burlington. He’ll be turning 87 this October.
“The most significant thing about living in this co-op is very simple,” he says. “It’s still affordable after all these years.”
One of his most memorable experiences came as a representative of CHT’s Board when he traveled with CEO Brenda Torpy to Luanda, Angola in 2008 where CHT was recognized at the United Nations World Habitat Award ceremony. “To be there representing what the organization has done in Burlington and Vermont was really something,” he added.
Editor’s Note: This being our 35th year, we’re looking back over the years and realize that we have many long term residents like Richard Kemp. More so than any building or program, CHT’s work is about the people who live in the housing we create. We’d like to capture more of our history and tell it through the stories of these members who have been with us over the years. If you are interested in participating in a profile like this one or in our efforts to curate our history, please be in touch with Chris Donnelly, [email protected] or 862-6244.