Over the past year, the Monadnock Housing Roundtable has been meeting virtually to discuss regional housing challenges, to share housing-related resources, and to open a space for dialogue about how to respond to our region’s housing needs. The May 12th meeting focused on assessing the group’s trajectory. Does it want to remain an informal forum that meets periodically to discuss housing-related issues, or does it want to evolve into an entity with a more clearly-defined mission and enhanced capacity to effect change?
A couple dozen participants were in attendance, primarily representing municipalities, non-profit entities, and community groups.
To guide conversation, Southwest Region Planning Commission (SWRPC) staff provided a “sketch” of a potential vision statement for the group, possible goals and priority actions, and various scenarios for how the group could structure itself. You can download that document here:
To set the stage for discussion, the group first considered several points in the “sketch,” which were included in order to provide helpful context. Those points included:
In order to be effective, the Roundtable can’t be all things to all people. Housing is a massive, multi-dimensional issue. Given limited capacity and resources, the Roundtable will likely need to focus on particular, well-defined aspects of our housing challenges in order to establish and work towards achievable goals.
There are already other groups in the region who are working on housing issues. If the Roundtable is to narrow and more clearly define its focus, it should identify what other groups are already working on and where gaps exist.
Sustaining the Roundtable on a purely volunteer basis would likely be difficult over the long-term. Some level of staff support is likely needed in order to keep the ball rolling. The extent of staffing needs could vary substantially, from several hours a month to a full-time employee.
Our region’s housing challenges aren’t going to solve themselves. Organizing on a regional basis isn’t easy, but it’s worth pursuing, given the regional nature of housing issues and the far-reaching consequences of doing nothing.
Ensuing discussion largely focused on the second point: that there are already groups in the Monadnock Region working on housing issues. Meeting attendees took some time to identify who those groups are and what they do. That list, along with some later additions, can be found by clicking on the button below.
One potential takeaway from this exercise is that there are already quite of few groups and organizations who focus on the housing challenges of our region’s most at-risk populations. That doesn’t mean that issues like homelessness or low-income housing don’t deserve more attention and support. They do. Perhaps, however, it would be more effective to support and collaborate with these groups rather than to create a new one with homelessness, transitional housing, or low income housing as its primary focus. There seemed to be general agreement with this sentiment (or at least no vocal opposition) among meeting attendees. At least one attendee, however, stressed that homelessness and housing insecurity shouldn’t be treated as separate issues divorced from the region’s wider housing challenges.
The preliminary inventory of housing-related groups within the region reveals that there isn’t currently a group or organization that is advocating for increased housing supply and diversity more generally. If such a group were to take shape, it could perhaps coordinate with organizations focused on the most acute forms of housing insecurity and serve as an effective partner, helping to draw the connections between the general housing shortage in our region and issues like homelessness. Such a group could also focus on issues receiving less attention and advocacy, such as workforce housing, a designation that includes not only housing for the most economically disadvantaged members of our community, but also middle-class households.
Potential Goals and Priority Actions
After considering the points listed above, the group reviewed and discussed potential goals that could guide the Roundtable’s work and how the goals might translate into priority actions. Possible goals and priority actions put forward for consideration included:
Cultivate and support a regional network of housing champions. In practice, this could translate into a range of specific actions, including:
Recruiting individuals and groups to become official members of the Roundtable or what it may become. At a minimum, membership could entail agreeing to have one’s name appear on the organization’s website and to affirm support for its goals and mission. Membership could also eventually entail a small financial contribution.
Engaging specific sectors, e.g. local employers, to help them understand how they can become more actively engaged in discussions on housing-related issues.
Providing technical assistance to local housing champions on how to advocate for and implement housing-related reform.
Provide educational opportunities and resources on housing-related issues. Potential actions include:
Organizing local forums, events, and charrettes to help community members explore and understand housing challenges and potential solutions.
Organizing and facilitating regional workshops/trainings on specific housing-related issues, e.g. the fiscal impact of housing, creating financing mechanisms for housing development, the benefits of manufactured housing, state legislative activities.
Empowering community members to share their housing-related challenges in order to highlight the human ramifications of inadequate housing options. These housing related narratives could be documented and shared using a variety of media (audio, video, written articles).
Reduce regulatory barriers to developing more housing options. While local land use regulations aren’t the only impediment to increased housing opportunity, they are a major factor and one that can be influenced at the local level. In addition to actions listed under items 1 and 2 above, other actions in support of this goal could include:
Compiling and/or drafting model land use regulations that facilitate the creation of undersupplied housing types, e.g. “missing middle” housing, condominiums, rental apartments, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
Helping to mobilize housing advocates in support of proposed regulatory reforms.
Facilitate residential development patterns that support other community priorities, such as environmental conservation, economic development, public health, municipal fiscal health, and more. New housing development can be compatible with or critical to the realization of other community goals. In its educational and reform-oriented activities, the Roundtable should recognize these factors and provide guidance on how they can be brought into harmony with increased housing opportunity.
Support the implementation of innovative housing initiatives. In some cases, taking an active role in the implementation of particular housing programs may be appropriate. Possible examples include homesharing programs, the formation of a community land trust, the creation of a housing investment fund, etc. The extent to which the Roundtable could play a role in program implementation would depend in large part on its ability to establish substantial organizational capacity.
Reactions to these possible goals and priority actions were largely positive, although participants seemed to gravitate towards some goals more than others. Over the course of conversation, some patterns emerged. Most notably, perhaps, is that education is a priority. Although there is growing awareness about how housing poses a challenge in our region, effectively responding to those challenges will require education on a number of fronts:
Self-education among advocates on housing-related issues, tools, and techniques. For example, a couple of meeting attendees expressed interest in exploring how a community land trust could help create increased housing opportunity in our region. Another attendee commented on how a housing “toolkit” would be helpful as local communities assess what their options are for creating more housing.
Outreach and education to the wider public on how housing issues affect all of us. In the chat, a meeting attendee shared a link to Keys to the Valley, an initiative in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont that takes a holistic approach to building community understanding on housing issues. The effort also promotes tools and resources that can help facilitate the creation of more, much-needed housing options.
Connecting with particular stakeholder groups to educate them on how they can help advocate for and create housing. For example, empowering local employers to raise their voice on housing issues could add a compelling perspective to local discussions on housing.
Other participants expressed interest in helping advocate for local regulatory reform. There was some discussion about which approach might be most effective in galvanizing local residents to support regulatory change. Some noted the importance of humanizing housing issues through storytelling—highlighting how a lack of housing opportunity impacts specific community members, and how those impacts can create ripple effects throughout the wider community. Another perspective was that appealing to the local electorate’s values and beliefs was less important than bringing solid data to the table and taking incremental steps towards change. Recent zoning changes in the Town of Jaffrey was cited as an example of small but meaningful reform at the local level. Those changes, which included a density bonus for workforce housing in certain districts, passed with little fanfare and by substantial margins at town meeting.
Having discussed potential goals and priority actions, the group will likely next turn to a conversation on a potential vision statement and scenarios for how the Roundtable might structure itself moving into the future. Some preliminary thoughts on both can be found in the write-up shared previously with the group. A date for the next meeting has yet to be scheduled, but is anticipated to take place in mid to late-June.
Join the Discussion
If you’re interested in participating in future meetings of the Monadnock Housing Roundtable or interested in how you can get invovled, contact Todd Horner at (603) 357-0557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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