MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Wednesday morning, Manchester Chamber of Commerce President Mike Skelton joined with Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig for the Chamber’s annual State of the City discussion.
The 2020 edition of the event, held at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Goffstown, was one of the last in-person events before the COVID-19 pandemic forced most events to be done remotely, underlining the impact that the pandemic has had on Manchester, like the rest of the world.
In turn, much of Craig’s address and responses to questions during the event touched on the city’s response to the pandemic as well as hope for the future. Craig noted the $44 million given to the city by the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID recovery and announced that her office has received 133 comments on how the money should be used.
Regarding the city’s response to COVID-19, she praised the Manchester Health Department for what she saw as their unsung efforts helping to stem the tide of the pandemic as well as the planning already in place that prevented further suffering at the beginning of the pandemic. She also praised Manchester-Boston Regional Airport Director Ted Kitchens for his work bringing a 1000 percent year-over-year increase in people at the airport from April 9, 2020 to April 9, 2021.
“Amidst all of this, our city is moving forward and crafting solutions to the challenges we face,” she said.
Despite the positive news on the pandemic, she urged Manchester residents to continue fighting fatigue over pandemic protection measures given the recent small uptick in COVID-19 cases in the city.
The other primary topic during the event centered around housing and homelessness. She mentioned efforts by non-profit groups to increase shelter space for homeless individuals, but also said that modifications to rules as some shelters need to occur, such as providing space for couples and sober individuals.
Regarding housing, she referenced recommendations from the recent affordable housing report released by the city, which she hopes will spur a Housing Commission to combat a lack of affordable housing in Manchester. Other solutions on affordable housing included the possible different utilization of the Hartnett Lot and Pearl Street Lot, working with developers to provide higher density housing in certain areas and working to amend state zoning guidelines that do not allow homes under 250 sq ft., often known as “tiny homes.”
Craig also mentioned a number of other grant efforts and other initiatives currently being undertaken by the city. Along with assistance in a potential new vertiport, parking spaces and a bike path on Canal Street, murals under the Amoskeag Bridge pillars, new benches outside the Carpenter Center and universal kindergarten.
When asked if she has made a decision on whether or not to run for re-election in the fall, she said an answer would be coming in the next few weeks, but looked positively on her time as mayor so far.
“This is the best job I’ve had in my entire life. I get to work with the community and businesses where I was born and am raising my family in a way that is proactive,” she said.