What is Fern Hill?
Fern Hill Apartments is a three-story apartment complex located at 214 North Prospect
St. in Burlington that provides housing for low-income adults who are either “elderly”
(aged 62 and over) or disabled (aged 18 and over). Fern Hill Apartments is owned by the
Synagogue Corporation, an independent nonprofit originally established by Ohavi Zedek
The genesis of providing this low-income housing came from the late Rabbi Max Wall
and OZ members. In 1972, Rabbi Wall stated, “We want to provide high quality housing
where people can live in dignity.”
In 1978, the Synagogue Corporation d/b/a Fern Hill Apartments was incorporated as a
Vermont non-profit. In July 1979, the Internal Revenue Service recognized the
Synagogue Corporation as a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt corporation. Later that year, the
Synagogue Corporation received approval from HUD (the federal Dept. of Housing and
Urban Development) for a 40-year mortgage under the Section 202 program providing
funds to construct elderly and disabled housing for low-income tenants.
Synagogue Corporation Board directors are OZ members or a family member or partner
of an OZ member. The OZ Board approves the Synagogue Corporation Directors at the
beginning of such Director’s term. The Synagogue Corporation reports annually to the
How it all began
In 1950, OZ bought the site of the Burgess estate, upon which Fern Hill now sits. OZ
sold the property two years later to Phi Sigma Delta, a fraternity of the University of
Vermont. The fraternity’s building was vandalized in 1969, and its members lacked the
means to rehabilitate it; for the next two years it stood empty.
In 1971, OZ bought the property back from Phi Sigma Delta. Rabbi Wall and
congregants talked about renovating and transforming the existing building into senior
housing. Barely a year later, in 1972, the building was destroyed by fire, but the idea of
providing affordable housing remained.
How did they do it?
The original Synagogue Corporation board consisted of eleven Ohavi Zedek congregants
and Rabbi Wall including Lawrence M. Bagdan, chair, Esther Cohen, Harvey Corman,
Barry Flur, James Gould, Fred Hirsch, Mark Kaplan, Matthew Katz, Arnold Krieger,
Richard Segal, Jennie Stoler, and Bernard Weisburgh.
The original board did the time-consuming work of developing a plan and working with
HUD to secure a Section 202 mortgage. OZ supplied $10,000 in collateral, which was
raised through $100 donations from congregants (and paid back in full at the end of two
The Synagogue Corporation bought the land upon which Fern Hill now stands from OZ
for its market value of $129,000, and was accepted by HUD as a sponsor of low-income
housing and granted a 40-year mortgage. HUD granted a loan of $2,012,700.
Construction costs were $1,736,548.
Fern Hill Apartments opened for occupancy on Friday, May 23, 1980.
Who can live at Fern Hill?
Fern Hill is a senior housing community comprised of 60 one bedroom apartments
subsidized through the project based Section 8 program as well as one two-bedroom
apartment for a staff member. Residents are required to meet specific eligibility
requirements including income. Elderly is defined as age 62 and above. In general,
residents may have adjusted incomes no more than 80% of the median income for
Chittenden County. In addition, 40% of new occupancies in a calendar year are reserved
for residents with adjusted incomes at or below 30% of the median income for Chittenden
The above rules apply to the applicant’s status at initial move-in. The allowable monthly
rent is set by HUD annually based on area market rents. The resident’s monthly share of
the rent is based upon on his/her annual income certification and cannot exceed 30% of
the resident’s monthly income. HUD subsidizes the balance of the unit rent.
What is it like to live there?
Fern Hill is not just an apartment complex; it’s a community, with activities, social
services, on-site staff, and a commitment to supporting a healthy, opportunity-rich life for
residents regardless of age.
Each one bedroom can have a maximum of two occupants. Residents provide their own
furniture; the kitchens come with stoves and refrigerators. The building is handicapped accessible
throughout and has six specially designed accessible units on the first floor.
On the first-floor, community spaces include three large community rooms—one with
oversized TV that can be used as an exercise space, a second with a fireplace and a third
with a kitchen. In addition, there is a small conference or meeting room and an office
dedicated to SASH (Seniors Aging Successfully at Home—a program provided by
Cathedral Square) and other social services.
There are now two elevators, two renovated bathrooms on the first floor, and an enlarged
laundry room. The second and third floors each have renovated community rooms. One
is designed to be used by a hairdresser and for a toenail clinic.
Residents have access to outdoor garden plots and an outdoor patio surrounded by
plantings. All utilities except phone, Internet, and cable television service are included in
the monthly rent.
SASH staff organizes programs like flu clinics, holiday sing-alongs, a weekly blood
pressure clinic and guest speakers on health issues from a variety of social service
agencies. Fern Hill management organizes community events such as picnics, monthly
meetings with residents, and other celebrations.
Who owns Fern Hill?
The Synagogue Corporation owns Fern Hill. The Synagogue Corporation’s volunteer
board of directors sets policy and oversees management.
When Fern Hill opened its doors in 1980, the board hired an executive director to manage
the building’s affairs (from 1985 on, with the help of an assistant director). In February
2017, the executive director resigned, and the board entered into a contract with Maloney
Properties, a local company experienced in managing non-profit housing.
Complications and resolution
In 2014, in the mistaken belief that Fern Hill would revert to the synagogue after forty
years, the OZ board had the Fern Hill property appraised. The appraiser searched the land
records and brought to light the modification of the original deed that struck the
reversionary clause in 1979. While this surprised many people, Fern Hill’s legal status
was now clear to all, and therefore it fell to the Synagogue Corporation board to look into
options for the property’s next steps.
Refinancing and renovation!
The Synagogue Corporation explored the possibilities for Fern Hill as the end of the
Section 202 mortgage approached. Throughout the process, the board has retained the
services of Amy Wright, a development consultant versed in affordable housing.
The first phase included a grant from VHCB (the Vermont Housing and Conservation
Board) that allowed the Synagogue Corporation board to consider the possibilities for
keeping Fern Hill affordable while meeting the needs of an aging population.
The board decided to seek financing to: (1) pay off a recent roof repair, (2) pay off the
original HUD mortgage from 1979, and (3) upgrade and renovate the building.
Financing was sought through the Affordable Housing Program administered through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston (FLHBB) with the support of People’s
United Bank (PUB). Once the application was approved, financing was through a 15-
year loan of $2,560,000 through PUB and a $500,000 grant through FHLBB.
Part of the plans included the $20,000 purchase in 2018 of three-tenths of an acre from
OZ to adjust a boundary and meet zoning requirements.
The board hired Jeanne A. Morrissey Construction (“JAM”) to carry out a roughly
$2,000,000 renovation. Construction began in August 2018 and included upgrades to
apartments, hallways, community spaces, and outdoor work. Construction was
completed in the spring of 2019.
The board also dealt with the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) contract
that had been slated to end in 2020 by negotiations with HUD allowing a change to a
different Section 8 designation and a HAP contract extending another 20 years through
The Synagogue Corporation looks forward to increasing activities in conjunction with
OZ. Fern Hill residents and OZ (including preschoolers) will be sharing the garden
The challenge for the Synagogue Corporation is to continue planning for the future needs
of Fern Hill—both the residents and the home provided for them. We will continue to
plan for services and programming. We will finalize our 20 year Capital Needs
Synagogue Corporation Board
Rabbi Amy Small