I Have A Future Here

Building a community where people care

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Heather Gruen approaches home improvements with an eye both to the past and the future. Her vision is eco-friendly and involves reusing historical items.

“It’s a matter of being patient, finding the right thing and being creative with how you use it,” she explains.

Her condo, which she purchased in 2013 through the Champlain Housing Trust’s homebuyer program, is a treasure trove of old-made-new-again materials. There are the 1950s light fixtures from a free pile, some old tires as tomato plant pots and a wooden screen door for their trellis, and some decorative tin sheets from her parents’ national historic registry home that will become her kitchen backsplash. She frequents yard sales, Goodwill and ReSource VT to find her inspiration.

Heather works in retail and rented for many years in both Burlington and Winooski. She looked forward to homeownership, but says that “no matter how much I was trying to save [for a down payment], something would always happen.”

She remembers one apartment in which she got notice from the landlord that the building had been sold, giving her just a month to move out before the property was condemned.

“I wanted to feel at peace and at home,” she explains, and that meant living in a home that she owned and where she could invest in her future and personal growth.

She looked at homes with a realtor, but found that “it was just not gonna happen.” In her price range on the open market was a home in Milton that she visited only to find a gutted foreclosure. She remembers the bonfire pit that had been built in the middle of the living room and how her friend fell through the stairs. Because of the safety issues, she calculated that it needed about $110,000 in additional investment just to make the house livable.

“It’s not doable, and it’s not fair,” she recalls. “Since when did having a roof over your head become a luxury?”

Working with the CHT shared equity program, she was able to purchase her condo in the New North End of Burlington for the same purchase price as the Milton foreclosure, and her mortgage is $100 per month less than the rent on her one-bedroom apartment.

Heather shares her home with Buddy, a New Zealand white dwarf rabbit. He enjoys watching Downton Abbey and venturing out back on his leash.

“People won’t invest where they can’t live, where they can’t stay,” she stresses. “I have a future here now. You’re building a community where people care. It’s been fun, it’s been scary, it’s been exhilarating … I feel so incredibly empowered doing this, and doing this on my own!”