At Penacook Landing, affordable housing marks two decades of development

Bette Hill in her one bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

Bette Hill in her one bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Bette Hill shows her artwork on April 3 in her one bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street.

Bette Hill shows her artwork on April 3 in her one bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff Bette Hill shows her artwork in her one bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

Bette Hill in her one bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

Bette Hill in her one bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

The two Penacook Landing apartments downtown on Canal Street.

The two Penacook Landing apartments downtown on Canal Street. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Bette Hill talks with Emily Boisvert of New Hampshire Housing at the Penacook Landing opening on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

Bette Hill talks with Emily Boisvert of New Hampshire Housing at the Penacook Landing opening on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Bette Hill talks with Brian Gallagher of the Caleb Group, which owns and manages  Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3.

Bette Hill talks with Brian Gallagher of the Caleb Group, which owns and manages Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Marlene Sheehan in her two bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3.

Marlene Sheehan in her two bedroom apartment at Penacook Landing on Canal Street in downtown Penacook on Wednesday, April 3. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 04-03-2024 3:28 PM

Bette Hill had one goal when her mom remarried and her family traded Concord for California when she was 14 years old – to move back “home.”

It took her 56 years, but in 2010 after raising five kids, Hill returned to New Hampshire and settled down in Bow. She loved the distinct seasons that came with living in New England and framed 30 photos she took of the state’s covered bridges.

When her partner died in 2020, though, their three-bedroom house felt empty. But for an aging senior, finding an apartment can often feel like winning the lottery in today’s market.

Hill got lucky. She walked out of her doctor’s office one day and saw construction for Penacook Landing across the street. She applied for a one-bedroom apartment in August and was unpacking her boxes by mid-October.

Penacook Landing is a two-building affordable housing development on Canal Street, home to 54 units, of which 49 provide income-restricted rent for residents who make no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

Hill moved into the first phase of the project in 2020. Last week, a certificate of occupancy was awarded for residents to begin to move into the second building, which marks a near completion of a decades-long project for the City of Concord – redeveloping an old tannery and Brownfield site into affordable housing. The final piece will be a park along the river, which is set to open in the spring of 2025.

In 1987, the tannery closed in Penacook and its old building sat empty, with contaminants bleeding into the Contoocook River. The city first began to work on the site in 2002, selling the land in 2016 to the Caleb Group, an affordable housing developer based in Massachusetts. The deal was closed after a tour of the site and negotiations at the Dunkin’ coffee shop on Fisherville Road, joked Matt Walsh, the deputy city manager for development in Concord.

Marleen Sheehan remembers when the tannery was active back when her brother used to work there. She’s lived in Penacook for most of her life.

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Now, she’s a resident at Penacook Landing, too. She and her husband live in a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor. He spends his days sitting by the window, watching activity along the river and cars driving over the bridge on Village Street.

She walks her neighbors’ kids down to the school bus each morning and is quick to show off photos of her granddaughter that hang on her fridge.

“I’m not moving again,” she said. “Not at my age.”

Before Sheehan and her husband moved into their Penacook apartment, they lived at Cranmore Ridge in Concord. When Brady Sullivan, a Manchester developer, bought the apartment complex in 2019, hikes to the rent and new water, sewer and gas charges sent her looking for a new place she could afford. Her sister-in-law gave her a phone number for the Caleb Group.

Affordable housing has long been needed in Penacook, said Brent Todd, the Ward 1 Concord city councilor. But it was something that many residents unnecessarily feared. What most failed to understand, was that these units would help residents to remain in town as surging rent and limited inventory continued to dominate the housing market.

“These are your neighbors, these are people you may already know. They live in the community and they will not be able to stay in this community if we do not provide this opportunity for them,” Todd said Wednesday.

Apartments in Penacook Landing have large windows and beige walls. Dark wooden cabinets line the kitchen, with a white fridge and oven. On each floor, washers and dryers are in a laundry room in the hall and a community room provides a space for residents to gather for events. Before Easter, Sheehan made a wooden wreath with neighbors that now hangs on her front door.

That’s the crux of affordable housing developments today, said Rob Dapice, the executive director of New Hampshire Housing. They provide clean, safe and stable housing that allows renters to find a home.

“For anybody who still has a stigma associated with affordable housing or public housing from decades past, this is nothing like that,” said Dapice. “Property like this are places where people can be proud to call them home.”

That’s exactly how Hill feels when she walks into the building. In the elevator, she asked her neighbor about her six-year-old daughter. Down the hall from her apartment, her overflow collection of plants populates the windows, as others stop to admire the pots. “Garden therapy” she calls it for fellow second-floor residents.

Another important aspect of living in the building is that it’s not age-restricted, giving multiple generations the option to live in the same building. Hill’s children live out of state, so she’s alone with her cat Daisy, who hides under the bed when guests come in.

As Hill put her key in the door, she called to a neighbor Cathy, down the hall who gifted her a plant.

“You want to see that African Violet you gave me? It’s blooming more now than when you bought it.”

A few months ago it had very few flowers on it, she said. Now its purple flowers are overpopulating the pot.

“Even my plants love living here.”