My Turn: New Hampshire – land of unaffordable housing

For the Monitor
Published: 6/8/2019 12:15:27 AM
Modified: 6/8/2019 12:15:15 AM

Laura Knoy’s morning program The Exchange on NHPR is popular and engaging. Sort of like that second cup of coffee that gets your day off to a good beginning.

One of her recent programs was dedicated to the subject of affordable housing in New Hampshire. Her guest that day was a specialist in housing, knowledgeable and generous with his descriptions of the conflict between free enterprise and the social inequities in New Hampshire housing. It was an interesting and enlightening program.

I am an amalgamation of socialist, free enterprise and capitalist beliefs, and a supporter of individual responsibility, values that resonate with many people in New Hampshire.

Growing up in New Hampshire in the 1950s was a magical experience for me. The state then had half of today’s population. Living near Lake Winnipesaukee was icing on the cake.

My first trip on the M/V Mount Washington was in the summer of 1951. I warmly remember that trip to Wolfeboro.

The Mount Washington had clear sailing with only a few sailboats on the lake. There were miles and miles of virgin forest lining the shore. A few summer cottages and a scattering of boys’ and girls’ summer YMCA camps that were tucked in among the trees were proof that New Hampshire was God’s green acre.

Those halcyon days are long gone and will never return.

That same trip on the M/S Mount Washington today paints a very different picture.

The shorelines on many lakes in New Hampshire have been denuded of trees and are now lined with ostentatious homes and condominiums with sprawling lawns, all to the delight of tax assessors. Much of that housing is unaffordable to many families in New Hampshire.

If a developer was foolish enough to apply for a permit to build affordable housing on waterfront property on the big lake, neighbors will take him to court to stop the project. NIMBY! It will depress property prices.

Uncontrolled capitalism is a cruel joke. So is undisciplined socialism. Both systems are in eternal conflict.

New Hampshire still has lots of acres of available land on which to build housing. The issue as I see it is that some people want to live where they wish they could live, not where they can afford to live. Jobs, family, recreation, social status, safety and nostalgia are some of the components in their criteria for the places they wish to live in. I take no issue with that as long as they can afford those housing costs and do not shift those costs onto other taxpayers.

A good case can be made for those who, for a variety of reasons, should be entitled to government subsidized affordable housing. The list includes the indigent elderly, a single parent supporting young children, the physically handicapped and other challenged individuals.

I am not an ogre. I understand that bad things do happen to good people. In a compassionate society, it is the duty of those who have to share with those who do not.

Life is not always fair. The best we can do is to settle for what we have and ponder what it would be like to live in the Castle in the Clouds, literally and metaphorically.

New Hampshire’s crippling property taxes are at the crux of the current affordable housing problems. We are now No. 3 on the list of states with the highest property taxes.

Young families may be able to qualify for a mortgage on a home here but cannot afford the real estate taxes. We are losing a valuable resource because our Legislature refuses to consider other avenues of state income to ameliorate the burden of exorbitant property taxes.

If we continue on this trajectory, only the elite rich will be able to afford to live in New Hampshire. There are close to 40,000 millionaires living in New Hampshire, about 7% of our population, and that number is rising.

Who will be left here to serve them food, wash their windows, service their vehicles, pick up their trash, plow their driveways, mow their lawns and teach their children?

If affordable housing is what you are looking for, I suggest that you try looking in Alabama, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wyoming or Utah.

Pack lightly, you may decide to return to New Hampshire. It is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Good luck.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)


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