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Claremont Brainstorms Ways to Boost Housing



Valley News Correspondent
Friday, June 01, 2018

Claremont — Increasing the availability of all types of housing, promoting the city as a great place to live and work and increasing school district support were among the ideas emerging at a forum on Thursday to address the city’s housing needs.

More than 50 people participated in the roughly two-hour discussion sponsored by Vital Communities and moderated by Bruce Mallory of New Hampshire Listens, an initiative of the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.

Participants split into seven different focus groups that developed talking points on the challenges the city faces as it attempts to create a housing environment that will attract workers, families, investors and developers.

The city has old housing stock, and at the same time, new development has been minimal for the last 30 years. The need for improvements to many of those older structures was seen as a key step toward addressing the city’s housing needs.

“There is a lot of (older) housing stock and developers won’t tear it down to build new,” said Steve Schneider, executive director of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission.

But Schneider also said it may not be financially feasible to improve many of these properties if the owner cannot find tenants to pay a higher rent and bringing a building up to code can sometimes prove too costly.

Good quality apartments, starter homes, condominiums and senior housing are all needs for the city, the group agreed, and even the “tiny homes” concept should be explored. “How do we provide housing for workers?” said Dave Putnam, referring to one of his group’s action items.

According to data handed out at the forum, Claremont’s total number of housing units has basically remained unchanged since 1990 at around 6,250.

Resident Walt Stapleton said his group looked at the data and concluded the city needs an increase in all housing types, especially rentals.

“We are going to need new construction to accommodate people coming here to work,” Stapleton said.

One of the impediments identified to creating more demand and increasing the availability of housing is the city’s tax rate, the highest in the state, said Realtor Bonnie Miles.

“Taxes are too high,” Miles said about what potential buyers tell her when they decide not to buy in Claremont.

The group’s recommended initiatives include low-cost micro loans to homeowners to make improvements and first-time homebuyer seminars to educate potential buyers. Tax incentives for making home improvements would increase tax revenue for the city in the long run, the same group said.

Along those same lines, Rep. John Cloutier, D-Claremont, said his group thought grants for assistance such as lead paint removal and energy efficiency upgrades could aid in owners in renovating old housing stock.

Mike Satzow, a lifelong Claremont resident who built North Country Smokehouse into one of the city’s largest employers, said the city’s attitude “needs to change” as a foundational step toward reaching other goals.

His group also recommended a tax increment finance district, which he said is now allowed under state law. TIF districts allow for infrastructure and other improvements, and then pay off the borrowing through increased assessments.

Other recommendations included neighborhood associations to improve and clean up the city and a better campaign to promote assets such as open space, recreational facilities and the recently renovated high school.

“We need to continue to build up the city’s reputation as a great place to live,” said resident Bill Blewitt about his group’s conclusions.

The groups’ work will be made available to the city and others.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com