Opinion: Towns have a housing role too

By ZIB CORELL

Published: 12-01-2023 6:00 AM

Zib Corell lives in Concord.

The local election is over, and the new city council has stated that housing and homelessness are a top priority. With more than one thousand units in the pipeline, Concord is showing its commitment to providing a broad mix of rental and condo housing in many regions of the city.

We know lack of housing is a problem throughout the state and as the capital and only city in the immediate area, Concord has an obligation and responsibility. Yet housing is a challenge in every town in our region and towns also have a responsibility. Children who grow up in Loudon may want to live there as they finish school and start working. Older folks in Hopkinton may be ready to downsize to a smaller home or a one-level option due to physical limitations. Teachers and firefighters in Canterbury may like the option of living in the town where they work.

None of these opportunities can happen if towns make it difficult to build alternatives to single-family houses on one-acre lots. Claims of losing rural character or fear of massive apartment complexes are hyperbole. Going back to the 1700s, homes clustered around the village green. The whole notion of a village meant having neighbors nearby. Concord has many old neighborhoods with New Englander-style homes of the late 1800s next to duplexes built forty years later. These streets have character and promote a diversity of people as owners and renters live side by side. Today they would be called a mixed housing development.

Recently, the Monitor has run stories about land planning efforts in Boscawen and Hopkinton. My initial reaction was enthusiasm that these communities recognize their role in embracing the challenge with local solutions. Yet the town leaders in one of these communities received a proverbial lashing for the change in character it would undoubtedly cause. How disappointing.

I encourage members of the council to work with the Regional Planning Commission to discuss and foster region-wide solutions to be carried out by town planning and zoning boards. A cul-de-sac with four duplexes can provide rental housing for eight families. A one-story building with five individual entrances could be a solution for seniors needing a simpler alternative.

Your children or parents may thank you for making it possible for them to be the generation that can come back to town or finish their years among old friends and neighbors. It is the ideal many of us hope to achieve.