It is no secret that Manchester faces a huge shortage of affordable housing. Of the roughly 2,300 housing units in Manchester, only 110 are listed on the state’s inventory of subsidized units, less than five percent of the total number. Of these, 84 units are owned and managed by the Manchester Housing Authority (MHA). All but four of these units are restricted to seniors and disabled tenants. The tenants of these units pay thirty percent of their income as rent. However, without funds to make significant repairs and improvements, these units are in danger of becoming unlivable.
The MHA units are located on three properties. The most visible is Newport Park, a collection of five two-story buildings off Pine Street built in 1964. It has 32 one-bedroom units for seniors and younger disabled singles.
The Plains is a larger complex of 48 one-bedroom units, also in five two-story buildings off Old Essex Road. Like Newport Park, it is also reserved for seniors and disabled tenants. It was built in 1975.
Loading Place Road is the third complex, this one for families with children. It offers only four apartments, two with two bedrooms and two with three bedrooms. It was built in 1988 on a remote site off Forest Street. Although the newest, it is over 30 years old.
Funding to support the operations of these properties is provided by the state. However, resources are scarce and for the most part, the operating expenses are paid from the rents that are actually collected. But given the limited incomes of these residents, the paid rent is not nearly enough to adequately maintain the apartment units. Indeed, the MHA and its staff are to be commended for keeping these properties going with so little funding.
In spite of these efforts, the MHA and their tenants are quick to point out that there are significant issues. The buildings are old and outmoded. Only a few units meet accessibility standards for handicapped or disabled tenants. Many of the units for seniors are second-floor walk ups. None of the buildings are adequately insulated and except for new boilers installed in Newport Park, utility systems are antiquated. With some investment, heating and water bills could be significantly reduced — but the state doesn’t have the funds to pay for capital improvements, and the rents barely cover the cost of utilities.
The Housing Authority is comprised of a volunteer board of five town residents chaired by Gretchen Wood. It has funding for a part-time staff to provide daily management and maintenance. Nearly all the residents are over the age of 70. One of the board members, Sue Thorne, pointed out that “Manchester’s population is nearly 1/3 ‘senior’ and that number grows yearly. Many of these people are folks who have dedicated themselves to serving the town as teachers, public safety personnel, or employees. Others have maintained or worked for local businesses. They deserve a chance to stay here and continue to contribute to everything that has made Manchester such a special place for all of us.”
“We are fortunate to have the facilities at Newport Park and The Plains along with the four units at Loading Place Road,” Thorne further stated. “However, these 84 units are simply not enough. And added to that is that the MHA has very limited funds from the state and keeping up these facilities is very hard to do. Many are in need of repair. Most are single bedroom units making it difficult for many couples who are seeking affordable housing.”
Renovating and expanding the MHA properties is not a new idea. In fact, the Town’s recently updated Master Plan includes the specific recommendation to “Work with the state, Manchester Affordable Housing Trust, and other partners to redevelop MHA sites (The Plains, Newport Park and Loading Place Road) to increase the number, accessibility and quality of units for seniors and disabled, mix income levels, and create a sustainable operating model.”
The challenge is to make necessary improvements, add additional units, and find a way to do this without relying on local taxpayers or disrupting the surrounding neighborhoods. The state has recently announced a program to meet this challenge by providing some grant money and by encouraging local housing authorities to form partnerships with private developers to create mixed-income apartment complexes. Adding new market rate units would help finance the construction cost and provide ongoing operating funds.
With help from the Affordable Housing Trust, the MHA has started the process of reaching out to potential partners for this much needed renovation project. As part of this effort, the MHA has recently issued a Request for Proposals for developers to help craft a specific development plan that can be submitted to the state next year for funding consideration. A specific strategy will emerge from this process with input from town boards and community stakeholders. Much more will come in the coming months as the plan comes into focus.
Editor's Note: In Manchester, there is "affordable housing" and then there is "housing that is affordable." Our community works better when thoughtful residents get involved with the conversation, especially about critical issues concerning our future as a town. Have something to say? Write us at email@example.com.