My Turn: The affordable housing conversation Concord needs to have

For the Monitor
Published: 9/28/2019 7:00:12 AM

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Penacook Village Association is hosting a forum on housing. Presenting will be representatives from CATCH, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority and the city manager. Everyone agrees that there is a demand for housing, not only in Concord but nationally.

And I believe everyone agrees that it is becoming more difficult to find and develop affordable housing.

Affordable housing comes in a variety of shapes and sizes: workforce, low-income and Section 8. Each program is designed to provide affordable housing for those of various incomes.

Workforce housing is described as a family of three earning 60% of the area median income and paying no more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. For a family of four making 100% of the area median income, paying no more than 30% of their income for mortgage, taxes and insurance. The other two programs also place restriction on how much income can be used for housing.

I have advocated for mixed income developments and for some types of housing density bonuses to provide more opportunities for affordable housing and to assist in making it affordable for developers. What I have heard back from the city is that even though other communities in New Hampshire do this it would be too difficult for Concord.

So here’s what you will hear. You will hear that there is a large demand for affordable housing. You will hear that there is also a demand for more workers, with New Hampshire’s unemployment rate at below 3%. You will hear that more people living in your community will add vitality and bring in new businesses.

Here’s what you won’t hear. You won’t hear how the added costs of services for those moving into a community will be paid for. School costs are in the range of $14,000 per student. And while there isn’t always a one-to-one relationship between more students and additional costs, education, recreation and police, fire and rescue costs all need to be considered.

So what about assisted-living or age-restricted development? With only three ambulances currently being staffed, and the cost of staffing a fourth ambulance estimated to be in the three-quarters-of-a-million-dollars range, even housing that won’t bring additional students to the schools can impact your property taxes.

And what you won’t hear is that even if Concord provides more housing, there is no guarantee that jobs will follow.

Concord and Penacook are very desirable communities to live in. What happens if we provide housing and few jobs are created? What happens if Concord becomes a bedroom community for Manchester and other communities?

So here’s what I think. While it would be impossible to always have a perfect balance between residential development and commercial growth, it should at least be a consideration when a community is being asked to provide more housing. As long as New Hampshire relies on property taxes to pay for a large portion of state and local services, without corresponding commercial growth, expenses for residential property owners become onerous.

I continue to believe that mixed-income neighborhoods make more sense than failed and failing 1960s housing models based on income. We have moved away from neighborhoods that provide local shops and services and moved to the Loudon Road model. This is why I have supported form-based code, because it can allow for a mix of uses in neighborhoods that have traditionally segregated commercial and residential uses.

Why not neighborhoods that permit commercial, retail, schools and residential uses while providing for a mix of incomes?

I believe there are two components to affordable housing. First is housing that is affordable for people to live in and the other side of the coin is ensuring that the community can afford to provide the schools, recreation and safety services for those moving in.

As we discuss ways to provide affordable housing for those who live and want to live in our community, let’s not forget that it is also important to provide the resources to make it affordable for those already living here.

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


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