What will NH’s age-friendly housing look like in 2040?

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Kir Harris of Elm Grove Companies leads a discussion about innovative housing strategies. Photo/Kathy Staub

MANCHESTER, NH — Demographers estimate that by 2040 one third of New Hampshire’s population will be age 60 or older. As New Hampshire baby boomers age they hope to remain in the communities where they have lived for 30 years or more, but their large single-family homes on 3-acre lots are no longer the optimal choice for aging in place. Unfortunately, restrictive zoning laws in many communities prevent any other type of house from being built.

On November 21 Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and AARP gathered a group of housing advocates, developers, state legislators, and ordinary citizens at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the Saint Anselm College Campus to share ideas for solving the state’s changing housing needs.

The state’s vacancy rate of under 1 percent, high rents, and zoning laws that restrict higher density were cited as barriers to people finding suitable housing choices. After brief presentations by the conversation facilitators, participants broke into groups to mull over discussion questions ranging from, ‘Would you support denser housing in your community?’ to ‘How do you manage septic systems on small lots?’

Ideas reported out at the end of the discussions included the construction of dense, communities-within-communities of smaller homes that require less maintenance. Downtown areas were considered prime targets for development of smaller living spaces for people looking for first apartments or downsizing from larger homes. These areas already have higher density and are generally more walkable than other areas. 

According to Robin LeBlanc of Plan NH, “One thing is very clear. It is important to talk to people in the community about what type of housing they will tolerate.” Communities that will resist large multi-family structures may be more amenable to a small neighborhood of townhouses. 

NH State Representative Sherry Dutzy, D-Nashua, thought the event was very useful in terms of presenting innovative ideas for meeting the state’s housing needs. “ It was a great resource. Especially having all these experts here and being able to follow up with them later.” 

Table facilitators included: 

Sylvia von Aulock, Southern NH Planning Commission

George Reagan, NH Housing Finance Authority

Cameron Prolman, Southern NH Planning Commission

Robin LeBlac, Plan NH

James Vayo, Southern NH Planning Commission

Kir Harris, Elm Grove Companies

Robert Tardif, NH Department of Environmental Services

Sarah Jacobs, Center for Ethics in Business and Governance,  St. Anselm College

Todd Fahey, AARP NH