Kuster visits AHEAD housing development

Kuster visits AHEAD housing development


Kuster visits AHEAD building projectBETHLEHEM — Last Tuesday, Congresswoman Ann Kuster toured the construction site of AHEAD's new housing development in Bethlehem. She spent 40 minutes on-site discussing the region's affordable housing needs with AHEAD team members. According to AHEAD Executive Director Mike Claflin, the 28-unit town-home project is 60 per-cent complete. He hopes to have construction completed by the end of January 2021, with units available by February.

Located off Route 302 near the Maplewood Golf Course, the Lloyd's Hill project has been in development for five years. AHEAD purchased a 45-acre lot and used approximately eight acres for the new construction. The remaining acreage was gift-ed to the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust and placed in a conservation easement to restrict any future developments in the area permanently.

The Bethlehem project was financed through Low Income Housing Tax Credits and will help alleviate the shortage of affordable housing options in the North Country. Kuster's visit occurred a week after she had met with housing advocated and realtors to learn of the pandemic's impact on the New Hampshire housing market.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced my belief that the federal government must do more to support projects like this one in Bethlehem, that expand the housing stock here in New Hampshire. AHEAD's past projects, including the Friendship House, have strengthened the community in the North Country and I have no doubt that the Lloyd's Hills project will build on that track record of success," noted Kuster.

Kuster is one of 223 co-sponsors of H.R. 3077, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which aims to increase the number of low In-come Housing Tax Credits received by NH each year. During the pandemic, the state received more than $70 million in federal funding to in-crease affordable housing access.

The development of affordable housing often presents obstacles and roadblocks, said Claflin.

He explained, "When we get into the rural communities, people have this preconceived idea about how afford-able housing will have a negative impact on their properties. It could be anything from a large influx of special needs kids increasing taxes to the idea that blighted real estate construction will decrease nearby property values."

In Bethlehem, the non-profit had to alter its initial plans to install the property's entry point on James Street. AHEAD was asked to provide pro-posed elevation drawings to prove that the units wouldn't be visible from Route 302 and conduct a traffic survey on the potential impact.

"It took five years to jump through all the hoops. The estimated cost in that first year was about a million and a half dollars less than it is now. That's pretty steep, especially when the whole object is to make the housing affordable," noted the executive director.

Other obstacles to affordable housing include zoning ordinances and a lack of municipal water and sewer systems, said Claflin.

"In rural areas redlining is that you can only build a house on five acres of land. That way, you keep out the multi-family developments like what we are doing in Bethlehem because the density is written into the zoning laws. Until the communities really want to do something about it and change some of the zoning laws, this problem will continue. The only new homes that are being built now are very expensive and far from afford-able," he stated.

Claflin continued, "Lack of affordable housing is the number one issue, whether you're talking with economic development people or the employers in the area. Between not having enough training for the workers and no housing, many the manufacturers are making noise that they will have to relocate and go to an area where there is both. Kuster's vis-it to the site had a lot to do with trying to figure out what they can do to help the situation."

The Lloyd's Hill development features high-end, high-efficiency units. While it is not the first AHEAD devel-opment in the region to utilize solar energy, it will be the first to deliver power back into the grid. Claflin said the non-profit is preparing to develop an additional 40-unit property in North Woodstock next. Because that community does not have zoning ordinances, it has been easier to navigate than the Lloyd's Hill project.

"I hope that people who seem to have a strong opinion about affordable housing will take the time to understand the problem. Projects like the one in Bethlehem can be used to upgrade the housing in a community and, at the same time, keep it so that people can afford it," stated Claflin.

Photo:  Congresswoman Annie Kuster visited the construction site of AHEAD's new housing development in Bethlehem last week as part of her efforts to address the lack of affordable housing in the North Country.

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