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; 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 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 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 or 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 as well as 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 Services 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 of New Hampshire Housing.
The group has pledged to continue to lead this effort within Keene’s “East Side” neghbrohoods 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.