Getting to Know the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition

Across the state, young people are concerned about the housing crisis, luckily, you can be part of the solution! This series will highlight the people and organizations leading the charge.

The Mount Washington Valley is one of the lucky parts of the state to be served by one of the state’s regional housing coalitions. The Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition (MWVHC) is a nonprofit organization serving the New Hampshire communities of Albany, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway/North Conway, Eaton, Freedom, Hart’s Location, Jackson, Madison, Ossipee, Tamworth and the Maine communities of Brownfield and Fryeburg. The MWVHC works in these communities to provide education, engage community members and municipal leaders, and change land use regulations.

I spoke with Harrison Kanzler, Executive Director of the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition, to find out more!

Harrison, tell us a little bit about what you are hearing from people on the ground in the Mount Washington Valley?

Housing is a major concern for everyone! Folks looking for work, people who are currently employed, and employers themselves are all concerned about the housing situation in the Mount Washington Valley. Our real estate market has hit a crazy high and most positions in the Valley can’t provide the income needed to buy houses at these rates without becoming economically burdened by the home. The market is also so fast that people looking to finance are at a severe disadvantage. If you are looking to rent, that’s just as tough! Our vacancy rate on rentals is right around 0. If a rental does come on the market there are so many people applying and in need that your odds of getting the rental are slim.

What about your housing story? As a young person in New Hampshire, you’re an authentic messenger!

I have been very fortunate in my housing. Out of college and grad school I lived with my parents, maybe that part isn’t so fortunate! But you do what you have to do. I then found a job that included housing. I worked that job for two years and saved up money. My fiancé and I decided to buy a house in 2015. The market was ok, and hadn’t bubbled like it is now. We got in at a reasonable rate. In those 5 years the town has reassessed our property, and the new value is so high our taxes have increased by over $1,000/yr. And that is just from assessed value! We have seen smaller houses on smaller lots right across the street from us sell for almost twice what we paid for our house 5 years ago. We even considered selling our house, but the reality is, we’d end up in the housing market with everyone else and would likely, in a best case scenario, break even. 

Are there any housing issues that are unique to the Mount Washington Valley?

Our biggest problem is that our housing market is a second home market first, and a primary home market second. Most houses being built are vacation/retirement homes. These are homes on bigger lots, typically with bigger square feet, and higher end amenities, they are perpetual second homes built with the intent of being investments. With the widely available interest in high end homes there is little incentive for contractors to build lower profit margin properties that would be more in line with the local economy. Especially when so many communities require 1-2 acre lots per house.

What advice would you offer to municipalities to expand their housing supply?

Offer density bonuses for developments that are deed restricted to affordability and primary residency. Deed restriction on affordability and primary residency would almost immediately eliminate these units from the second home market, making them fit more in line with the economic realities of our area.

How can young people get involved in your work to advance diverse and affordable housing options in the Mount Washington Valley?

Speak up and get involved! We have some young folks who write LTEs (letters to the editor), which is great. Reach out to your local housing advocacy group and see what they are doing. If you have the time, run for office! I think a lot of young folks are worried about running for office because they aren’t qualified or lack experience. The reality is, for most municipal boards the only qualifications you need are to be 18 and live in the town! As far as experience goes, there is only one way to get it, being a board member. There are so many resources available to new members of Municipal boards that you can pretty quickly learn the ropes. Then you will truly get the experience of a lifetime, helping to enact the changes you want for your community!

If you want to get involved, connect with the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition (give them a “like” on Facebook, too).

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