Southwestern Community Services
21 in 21 Home Upgrade Program
The 21 in 21 Home Upgrade Program is a collaborative effort by and between the City of Keene and Southwestern Community Services. With the city looking to secure the future of a number of critical, working class neighborhoods in and around Keene’s East Side; coupled with SCS’ desire to expand its current Home Weatherization/Energy Services and Home Rehabilitation programs, this effort was conceived in early 2020.
Over twenty years ago, Keene recognized the critical need to continue increasing its supply of Workforce Housing. This was a component of supporting the notion to try and achieve a “balanced supply” of housing in the city. Housing in our neighborhoods located near central Keene are mostly intact as neighborhoods, but struggle. Yet, they have many existing strengths and assets (who does not want to live near work, school, and/or a vibrant downtown plus recreation?).
This housing stock should be used in a strategic way to improve lives and provide housing for our community. These neighborhoods are referred to as “middle neighborhoods.” Our “middle neighborhoods” are “walkable”, have good bones on desirable blocks, based on location; are near downtown and employment opportunities. However, they face a profound lack of confidence in the future of their neighborhoods. They require strategic investments—but far less than what is needed to revitalize neighborhoods that have fallen into deep distress. Keeping these neighborhoods from sliding further into neglect and disinvestment is also a long-term savings since the cost of turning communities around once they have lost their confidence and their amenities have decayed is astronomical.
Over the past two decades, Keene has seen a relatively significant increase in the number of rental apartments serving the senior, student, LMI, disabled, and a portion of the area’s workforce.
One of the most prominent efforts over the years were SCS’ collaborations with Keene Housing. These two organizations worked together in 2005 to create the Stone Arch Village development. Fifty-seven units of permanently affordable apartments were built on upper Court Street in 2005/6. A second was the complete re-development of the former seventy-five-unit Cheshire Homes development near Key Road. It was here in 2012/13 where the notion was raised that it was just as important to bring new housing development to the city as it was to “preserve” the existing stock of Workforce Housing.
Beyond these examples, private developers as well as Keene State College have recently added many hundreds of beds – on and off campus – to serve the student population; market developers have just recently added over two hundred market-rate units to the city; SCS and Keene Housing have, over the past 15+ years, developed and/or restored many hundreds of units to serve low to moderate income senior, disabled and working households throughout the city. All of this has occurred while little additional preservation has progressed in addressing the needs of the city’s single-family, working-class neighborhoods. Keene is effectively “built out” with extremely little land left for traditional single-family development. What it does have is the “East Side”.
Most recently, the City of Keene has worked with a number of groups, individuals, and organizations to study, re-design, and re-purpose the former Carpenter Street Field, a prime park area that lies between Keene’s downtown core and many of its East Side neighborhoods. The city has committed over $1,200,000 to this effort and renamed the field the Pat Russell Park, honoring Keene’s first female Mayor, a long-serving member of the city’s government, a tireless advocate, and a longtime resident of the “East Side”. Civil Engineering is underway and final plans are being developed for this major effort.
Collaborative efforts such as this are built upon a few cornerstones. 21 in 21 has cornerstones that include leadership by two entities (the City and SCS) that understand, value, and have proven that they can effectively work together towards a common goal. Second, that these entities clearly understand the value of re-investing in critical areas of their city. Finally, there is a true, locally driven desire and significant resources available to improve the energy efficiency and overall condition of the community’s existing housing stock, particularly with the city’s working-class neighborhoods.
The 21 in 21 effort is being led by the City of Keene’s Mayor George Hansel as well as by W. Rhett Lamb, Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director, and Medard Kopczynski, Economic Development, Special Projects, and Initiatives Director. SCS is represented by its CEO, Beth Daniels as well as Keith Thibault, SCS’ CDO, and Gabriel Leonard, Energy Conservation Program Director. The group is seeking to add a “third leg to the stool” with the planned addition of a Program Coordinator. Funding for this position has been requested from New Hampshire Housing.
SCS’ Weatherization program has developed a close collaboration with NH Utilities, such as Eversource and Liberty Utilities. This collaborative effort, during the past 3-5 years, has resulted in significant, energy efficiency upgrades to many hundreds of apartment units and many dozens of single-family homes throughout southwestern New Hampshire. Considerable financial resources are available through these entities to continue this work into the foreseeable future. SCS Development team has continued to work closely with officials of the Community Development Finance Authority regarding the state’s Community Development Investment Program (CDIP). In June 2021 SCS was awarded $475,000 in tax credits to address any necessary home repairs, beyond those being addressed by the energy efficiency upgrades financed by the utilities. Members of our team have secured $385,000 in tax credit equity commitments, which will net $308,000 in dollars available for rehabilitation activities. Local businesses that have invested in this project include.
- C&S Wholesale Grocers,
- Fenton Family Dealerships
- Savings Bank of Walpole
- Whitney Brothers
- Mascoma Bank
- Monadnock Ford
- Kapiloff Insurance
- Filtrine Manufacturing
- Autex Mazda and
- Paragon Digital Marketing
$90,000 in tax credits are yet to be placed raising an additional $72,000 in equity to the project. The group intends to bring an average of up to $50,000 in utility and tax credit resources to each home. Our initial goal, therefore, would be to invest over $1,000,000 in these neighborhoods.
The program is intending to assist at least twenty-one single-family homeowners and small, multi-family property owners in 2021 and beyond. Fifty property owners representing almost eighty units of housing were contacted in November 2021. Nineteen property owners responded to the initial “offering and SCS is currently working with ten property owners. Several homes are set to begin weatherization and rehabilitation activities. Improvements to the homes could include heating system upgrades, insulation, ventilation, energy-efficient lighting as well as home rehabilitation work including roof replacements, system upgrades, or any other needs to bring the home up to HUD’s Housing Quality Standards. Owner-occupied homeowners earning up to 100% of the state median income and properties with renters earning up to 60% of our state median income will be targeted. These percentages mirror the State of New Hampshire’s definition of Workforce Housing contained within its’ Workforce Housing Law. Should households exceed these limits, a “cost-sharing” approach will be used to be determined by the percentage level above the limits. For example, should a single-family, owner-occupied home is made up of a household whose income is at 120% of the state median income; then that household would have to contribute 20% of the total cost of the upgrades and rehabilitation.
The 21 in 21 program, initiated in 2021; will continue its work through 2022 and into 2023. Improvements to the East Side neighborhoods of Keene will be substantial. SCS is proud of this collaborative, “green”, community effort.
The group has pledged to continue to lead this effort within Keene’s “East Side” neighborhoods into 2022 and beyond.
We would like to acknowledge the following local businesses that have generously pledged to invest in tax credits to help support the 21 in 21 Program. These “investments” by local businesses are a critical part of the necessary commitment to the 21 in 21 program as well as the Keene East Side neighborhoods.