Kuster headlines panel on housing

  • New Hampshire Realtors Association legal affairs director Bob Quinn moderates a roundtable discussion at SoClean in Peterborough Thursday held by the Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors with Congresswoman Annie Kuster about New Hampshire’s aging population, how to attract young people to the Granite State, the current tight housing market and the need for affordable housing and about how all these issues affect growing businesses. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Nationally recognized demographer Peter Francese speaks as a panelist at a roundtable discussion at SoClean in Peterborough Thursday held by the Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Congresswoman Annie Kuster sits in on a roundtable discussion with Peter Francese at SoClean in Peterborough Thursday held by the Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Congresswoman Annie Kuster talks during a roundtable discussion at SoClean in Peterborough Thursday. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • New Hampshire Realtors 2019 President Dan O’Halloran talks during a roundtable discussion at SoClean in Peterborough Thursday held by the Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • New Hampshire Realtors 2019 President Dan O’Halloran and Congresswoman Annie Kuster at a roundtable discussion at SoClean in Peterborough Thursday held by the Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Adam Hamilton joins in on a roundtable discussion at SoClean in Peterborough Thursday held by the Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors. Hamilton and Josh Velasquez, on the left, are the founders of Nuttin’ Ordinary, a plant-based food company in Peterborough. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Eric Burbank, vice president of business operations at SoClean, Inc. in Peterborough joins in on a roundtable discussion at SoClean Thursday held by the Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Ken Moller, president of the Real Estate company The Mollers, Inc. in Hancock, talks at a roundtable discussion at So Clean in Peterborough Thursday about how zoning is getting in the way of the creation of smaller home and lots sizes, which younger people and families are seeking. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/22/2019 9:16:17 PM

New Hampshire’s lack of affordable housing and its impacts on Granite State businesses and schools was the main focus of a Contoocook Valley Board of Realtors-hosted and Congresswoman Annie Kuster attended roundtable in Peterborough Thursday.

“If New Hampshire doesn’t start to recognize that it needs younger people, it needs the workers, and the workers need affordable housing then we’re going to keep New Hampshire’s economy from moving forward,” said the association’s legal affairs director Bob Quinn, who moderated the roundtable.

The roundtable was hosted by SoClean, Inc. and was attended by numerous area Realtors and business owners. Panelists included Kuster, New Hampshire Realtors 2019 President Dan O’Halloran and Peter Francese, one of the demographers behind the 2008 documentary “Communities & Consequences.”

The New Hampshire Realtors Association just did a poll for the National Realtors Association, Quinn said. “What was interesting was overwhelmingly people want to see their town and elected officials talk more about housing. They don’t think it’s being discussed enough and it’s impacting their lives,” Quinn said. “And you also see a real dichotomy between the viewpoints of people who are older and longer residents, they are comfortable with large four-acre lots, homes further away from city centers. But the younger folks clearly want smaller homes, closer to a city center, walkability, those sorts of issues. So you have these two different needs and desires moving forward.”

Kuster echoed that saying young people want to be able to walk to their local coffee shop and host friends at a restaurant, not in a large dining room. And they don’t want to spend their weekends cleaning a large house or yard like her generation did. Families are also smaller these days, she said.

Francese said the only affordable housing stock, at $250,000 to $350,000, is being scooped up by seniors looking to downsize like himself. Realtors at the roundtable agreed that both young people and retirees are competing for the same housing stock.

“My wife and I downsized two years ago and bought a house in Exeter about 200 yards from our previous home,” Francese said. “It’s a third of the size of our previous home. We love it. It sold for only $350,000 and I’ve been feeling guilty ever since cause I snatched it away from some millennial who wanted that house. But they had to get a mortgage, which they couldn’t get because of their student debt. I walked in and put down the cash from my previous big home that we sold.”

Community & Consequences

In 2008, Francese, along with Jay Childs and Lorraine Stuart Merrill, made the documentary Community & Consequences about New Hampshire’s aging demographics.

“We’re now embarking on a sequel,” he said, urged on by groups including the New Hampshire Realtors Association. “Because in 1990, 29 years ago, New Hampshire could not have possibly been more average. We had the same medium age as the country we had the same age distribution as the country. We looked like the rest of the nation. A little less diverse, but we were still demographically just like the rest of the country.”

Today, New Hampshire has the oldest population only second to Maine. “We are the fastest aging state in the country, bar none,” Francese said.

Francese said he is constantly trying to dispel the myth that families with children increase property taxes. And despite what some conservationists might say, Francese said, placing land in conservation does not keep property taxes low. “The conservationist say, ‘Put land in conservation because birds don’t pay taxes and they won’t put any kids in the school.’ And I go, ‘No, the deer won’t put kids in the school. But as school enrollment keeps dropping and dropping one of these days schools are going to start closing. And what is going to happen to your property tax when the school is not there to center your town anymore?’”

“Be careful what you wish for. If you wish for no kids it’s going to become a problem. It is a problem,” Francese said. “This is an unsustainable track we are on. … Us old people, what do we need? We need medical care. We need an ambulance at three o’clock in the morning when we have our second or third heart attack. Who’s going to be there to drive the ambulance if there are no young people?”

Zoning

When Real Estate agents had the chance to talk they said local zoning is restricting the construction of affordable housing.

“It’s zoning,” said Ken Moller said, a Hancock Real Estate agent.

Moller shocked Kuster when he said his town would allow building lots smaller than four acres.

“Four-acre minimum?” Kuster said.

“They like it that way,” Moller said. “The people come out of Connecticut or Massachusetts. They come here because they want the snob zoning and they want to build a house or buy an existing house and they want more restrictive zoning when they get here and it’s become a problem.”

He said the situation is putting Hancock’s small elementary school in danger of closing.

Francese said it’s up to the towns to fix this situation. “The state is not going to do anything. It is up to you to allow more affordable housing.”

Broadband and student debt

Kuster said she also thinks the lack of broadband access in parts of the state like the Monadnock Region and the high student loan debt carried by most young workers is also boxing young home buyers out of the market.

“You have houses that don’t sell cause you can’t get that work-from-home atmosphere,” O’Halloran said of areas of the state that don’t have adequate broadband access.

Kuster said in her visits around the state she has met masters level social workers and therapists who earn $50,000 a year but have $350,000 in school debt. “How are you going to buy a home? How are you possibly? You already carry a mortgage around on your back, a rather substantial house by the way,” Kuster said.

Kuster said she is working to address the high levels of student debt at the federal level as well as the lack of broadband in parts of New Hampshire. “We’ve got to tackle that because there is no way you are going to get young people to move here and start a business here if they don’t have instant access to the world,” Kuster said.


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