My Turn: Penacook fears high taxes, not new neighbors

For the Monitor
Published: 5/11/2019 12:10:27 AM
Modified: 5/11/2019 12:10:14 AM

The editorial in the May 5 Sunday Monitor states that in Penacook “residents fear that building high-rise apartment buildings on an industrial site will harm their quiet neighborhood.”

Let me assure those on the Monitor’s editorial staff it isn’t the loss of quiet that concerns those who pay the school portion of their property taxes to the Merrimack Valley School District. It is the ability to be able to afford paying what is currently the 11th highest tax rate in the state. A tax rate that is $5.41 per thousand higher than those who pay their property taxes to the Concord School District.

A family in the MVSD with a house assessed at $250,000 pays $1,352.50 more than the same house in the Concord School District.

It isn’t the high-rise that has those in Penacook concerned. In fact the Penacook Vision Plan would allow for a six-story building to help maximize the potential assessed value of the site. It states that the site should be a mix of commercial and residential.

It is the scarcity of commercial development in Penacook. It is adding more children to an already crowded Penacook Elementary School. It is being able to pay for the services for new families moving to Penacook that is of concern.

Over 40% of the assessed values that pay for the Concord School District are commercial properties. In Penacook they make up less than 25% of the tax base. And the value of commercial properties in Penacook continues to decrease.

In part the editorial is about NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) and YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard), about the need for affordable housing. What is affordable housing? In Merrimack County the median family income as reported by HUD is $92,700 and as reported by N.H. Employment Security in Concord it is $78,605.

In Merrimack County, low income is defined as 80% of the median family income. For a family of four, it is $74,150. Very low income is 50% and extremely low income is 30%. The median cost of a house in Concord is $230,000, give or take a few thousand dollars. Now let’s subtract from that income car and school loans, day care costs, credit card liabilities, health insurance and deductible payments, and the cost of medication.

As I see it affordable housing is what people can afford to pay. Sounds simple. But how do we provide housing that is affordable? Do we continue to subsidize housing as we have in the past or do we find new ways to make housing affordable for both the buyer and profitable for the builder?

Affordable housing is an important issue. If you have people living in homes they can barely afford, how much will they be able to contribute to the economic vitality of the community? Making housing affordable is more than just having homes that people can afford. It is also ensuring that communities can afford the housing.

Concord has hired a consultant to assist us in rewriting our zoning codes, moving to a form-based code. The new zoning districts will be designed to more accurately reflect what is already here and allow for a greater range of uses in the zoning districts.

A mix of light industrial, office, commercial, retail and residential can all be permitted in a single district. This is an opportunity to ensure that all families have a home they can afford to live in, by requiring that mixed-income residential housing is included in the new zoning districts.

While the Monitor points its fingers at Penacook residents, no such comments were attributed to those living in the city’s Auburn Street area.

A number of years ago when the city was working with the Tuttles to move their house to make way for the Langley Parkway, a homeowner offered a lot they owned. The neighborhood was up in arms, as the rather small New Englander the Tuttles owned wasn’t up to the grand standards of the neighborhood.

It is clear that more housing is needed throughout our state, but is just having more housing the answer? Having housing that is affordable for both the homeowner and the community should be the goal. Rather than pointing fingers, the Monitor should understand that in Penacook it isn’t the fear of new neighbors, it is the fear of losing their homes.

(Allan Herschlag is Concord’s city councilor for Ward 2.)

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