Two New Hampshires: With record-setting pandemic sales, Meredith’s middle-class slowly priced out of town

  • Cathie Keets outside her manufactured house in Meredith earlier this fall. Keets loves ride her bike around the lake region. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cathie Keets outside her manufactured house in Meredith earlier this fall. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Cathie Keets with her custom-made motorcycle outside her manufactured house in Meredith earlier this fall. Keets loves to ride her bike around the Lakes Region. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Cathie Keets with her custom-made motorcycle outside her manufactured house in Meredith earlier this fall. Keets loves ride her bike around the lake region. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Downtown Meredith as seen from the Lake Winnipesaukee docks.

Monitor staff
Published: 11/25/2022 11:00:25 AM

For Cathie Keets, Meredith is quintessential New Hampshire. It is beautiful in the fall, with the foliage reflecting off the water. In the summer, the lake is filled with boaters and families enjoying the warmer months. Come winter, anglers accompany hockey players onto the ice, with the vast frozen surface serving as a winter playground.

Living near the lake for Keets means experiencing these seasons by way of long motorcycle rides along its shores. She’ll head out of Meredith, up to Center Harbor, around the top of Winnipesaukee down to Wolfeboro and circle back through Laconia.

Keets has lived in Meredith for 30 years, a few miles away from the town’s tourist center. She worked for the state treasury department before retiring two years ago.

Almost two decades ago, Keets moved into a manufactured home in a housing cooperative on the outskirts of town. For a while, it was just hers. Recently she’s shared it with her son, who is disabled and needed a place to stay for periods of time.

In her three decades in town, Keets still doesn’t consider herself a local. But she’s learned that the traffic to the Hannaford parking lot may back up the street in the summertime. She’s watched as the lakefront views she enjoys from her motorcycle succumb to private home development. And she knows that there’s limited affordable housing for residents, like her son, to live nearby.

Prime real estate

In a town where the median home value is around $350,000, million-dollar lakeside properties still appear with some normalcy in real estate reports.

These houses typically surround the waterfront. The median home value of the top 1% of properties is $3,483,300.

The pandemic saw new license plates and neighbors arrive. A hot real estate market meant for-sale signs went up just as quickly as they came down.

The town’s Annual Report noted that 2021 was a record year of property sales in the area, in quantity and cost. The average selling price increased to $559,000, which was almost 20% higher than the previous year.

“The lack of inventory and the pandemic have combined for record sale prices,” the report read.

Through September of this year, home sales in Meredith have totaled $87 million. This is up 27% from last year, according to the New Hampshire Realtors Association.

With record sale prices comes the question of affordability — what happens to low-income and middle-class residents in the town when million-dollar developments come to town?

Affordable housing

For four decades Deer Run, an apartment building on Pleasant Street in Meredith, provided designated affordable housing in town. Just off Meredith’s downtown loop, the building contained 25 units in a prime location for lakeside developers.

The owners had one stipulation when they wanted to sell the apartment building a few years ago — the units would remain dedicated to affordable living in Meredith. So they approached the private, non-profit Lakes Region Community Developers — who have developed affordable apartments in the area for 25 years — about purchasing the property.

In 2016, the organization bought the building. They then spent the next five years fundraising for a renovation project to refurbish the apartments, while promising to keep the rent affordable.

This ongoing $5 million project began in January, with hopes of tenants moving into the new apartments by the end of the year, according to Carmen Lorentz, the executive director of Lakes Region Community Developers. Upon completion, the building will be renamed Harvey Heights.

There is no question about the need for income-restricted affordable housing, Lorentz said. There is also little doubt that if Lakes Region had not purchased the property, low-income residents would not be the target audience of whatever development replaced it.

“Given the housing situation, preserving those 25 units, we thought it was just critical,” she said. “We knew that it would definitely be converted into something market rate or maybe even torn down.”

To rent a unit at Harvey Heights, tenants must make 50% or less of the median income for the area. This is a typical tool to determine income thresholds for affordable apartments, though the percentage point may vary among developers.

Tenants at Harvey Heights — many of whom work in retail, food services and health care — only contribute 30% of their income toward rent and receive a subsidy to cover the rest.

“These are the folks that we need to keep the economy moving,” Lorentz said. “I think it’s really important to make nice housing opportunities for those families.”

The amount tenants will pay varies according to their income, said Lorentz. The idea of this sliding pay scale allows tenants to build credit while paying rent, but also save money while doing so.

“These are people that live and work in the community and that just have very limited options,” she said.

Second chances

For Erica Green, a single mother of two who lived in Deer Run, this model provided her with a second chance to rebuild a life with her kids in town.

When Green moved to Meredith, she was newly sober and working as an assistant manager at Burger King. When she rented a unit at Deer Run, it was a chance to start anew, she said.

“They give people second chances. If they can prove that they’ve gone to treatment and they have turned their life around … they give families the opportunity to start over,” she said.

She joined AmeriCorps and volunteered at a local recovery organization. She helped others navigate their path to sobriety while she continued to work with her own recovery coach.

Now, Green works as a certified recovery support worker. She saved money while living in affordable housing and recently moved to a new place with no rent subsidy needed.

Harvey Heights fills a clear need in Meredith, but 25 units only solves a small sliver of a greater problem.

This is the type of housing opportunity that Keets wishes her son could find.

“Affordable housing is nowhere in sight,” said Keets. “There’s nothing for people I care about, people that can’t afford to pay these high rents, these high-end apartments.”

Her son has a case manager helping him find a new place to live. She hopes it will be nearby, but with the lack of availability, it is not a guarantee.

Development in the lakeside town poses a dilemma for Keets. She knows it is good for the economy and more units can provide greater availability to a thin rental market.

But when many are priced at market rate – $1,500 a month or more – she worries about the people these new properties leave out.

Fall is her favorite time to ride her motorcycle around the lake. She watches the leaves change. She can smell people’s wood stoves burning.

But in recent rides, she’s also noticed condo buildings going up on the lake shores. Lot by lot, she fears public access to the waterfront will be limited, her views will be blocked and people like her son will continue to struggle to find a place to call home in Meredith.

“Sometimes I wonder how big is this town going to get,” she said.


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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