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County officials drop sober housing plans in Claremont, for now



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, October 08, 2019

CLAREMONT — With the estimated cost to renovate a downtown building for transitional housing at $3 million and with the possibility of the figure increasing, Sullivan County officials decided this week to no longer pursue the project.

The former Eagle Times building on Sullivan Street just off Opera House Square is the third location the county has considered but later abandoned. Renovation costs for a Main Street building were too high and neighbors objected to transitional housing for the vacant Junior Sports League building on School Street.

County Manager Derek Ferland said Tuesday the commissioners could not justify a loan of about a million dollars to round out the funding. He said a local bank was willing to lend the county up to $1 million or 80% of the post-project appraisal.

Other funding would include $500,000 from the county budget, a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant and $800,000 from the New Hampshire Housing Authority.

“We could not get more grant money and the costs seemed to only go up,” Ferland said.

Before Monday, an architect’s estimate to create dormitory-style housing on the second and third floor of the building for 45 to 50 beds with other amenities on the bottom floor, including a kitchen and dining room, was between $2 million and $2.5 million.

“Even that would be a stretch,” Ferland said about the county being able to service a loan of about $700,000 for that construction price, which would include acquisition of the 12,000-square-foot building.

When the estimate rose another $500,000, “it was getting to the point of being too risky” for taxpayers who would have to pick up the tab to pay if the finances did not work out as planned, Ferland said.

The county viewed the building as an ideal location because it’s within walking distance to many downtown services and jobs and is not in a residential neighborhood.

County officials, in particular Department of Corrections Superintendent David Berry, have said transitional, or sober, housing is the missing piece to help those who have served their term for nonviolent drug offenses and have completed a corrections department treatment program to reintegrate into society. Otherwise, many released inmates return to the same environment and people where they got in trouble in the first place. The lack of sober housing is seen as the biggest obstacle to avoiding a relapse.

County officials have said about 43% of inmates who successfully complete the Transitional Reentry and Inmate Life Skills Program at the Sullivan County House of Correction have either “unstable or no stable” living arrangements. The sober housing facility would also be open to others in recovery, not just former inmates.

Ferland also said they have not given up on trying to find a suitable location. A smaller project of between $1 million and $1.5 million is a possibility — but if it cost less it has to be smaller and that means less revenue, he added.

Also on Monday, the commissioners approved a request from New England Family Housing of New Hampton, N.H., to apply for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant that would go toward the construction of about 65 apartments in a former mill building on Sunapee Street in Newport.

NEFH is also seeking a tax credits and private financing for the project, which has previously been approved for a different developer by the Newport Planning Board.

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