My Turn: Concord should embrace accessory dwelling units

For the Monitor
Published: 4/28/2019 12:10:15 AM

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that Concord has a serious housing problem. No, not for the well-to-do or even for the very low-income, but for the professionals and workers our businesses and industries rely on. Rents are astronomically high and availability low.

A friend recently advertised a two-bedroom apartment that he owns in Penacook for $1,110 a month. He began getting responses within minutes of the posting and carefully chose one of the 10 applicants after a week. Nine of the 10 had to continue their search in a market where prices range from $1,500 to $1,800 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

Concord’s response to the housing crisis is to approve plans for the $600,000 condominiums to be built on Storrs Street. Even the one-bedroom mini-apartments scheduled for construction on Pleasant Street above White Mountain Coffee Shop are expected to rent from $1,300 a month.

I was very happy to see the article about in-law apartments (actually accessory dwelling units) in the March 17 Sunday Monitor, but couldn’t help noticing that the news came from town meetings and not from the city of Concord. I was also sorry to see the apartments headlined as in-law apartments, since that is only one of their many uses.

According to legislation that was passed in 2017, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) can provide a smaller handicapped adapted living space for the owner, space for family members, caregivers or rental income. They can be carved out of existing structures or be new construction.

It is my understanding that no permits have been granted for ADUs in Concord. A city employee told me that he thought they were a terrible idea. He said that the city had allowed people to put in second kitchens and he didn’t understand why that wasn’t enough. How a second kitchen solves a housing shortage escapes me.

Other communities have reacted more positively.

The town of Hanover has seen the construction of seven ADUs since the legislation was passed in 2017. Pembroke has permitted four. The White Mountain Valley Housing Coalition has developed an explanatory website where you can find much more information about ADUs. And there is at least one book with helpful advice: Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development by Kol Peterson.

I like to think that once homeowners in the city of Concord become aware that an ADU might help them stay in their home and at the same time provide housing for a young family or professional, they will begin to take advantage of the law.

Will ADUs solve Concord’s housing problem? Of course not. But for each ADU there will be one more homeowner who can stay in the home and community they love, and one more renter who can live and work in Concord. We will all benefit.

(Patricia Wallace lives in Concord.)

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