Keene affordable housing nonprofit eyes former community college site for housing

Monadnock Affordable Housing Corp. to begin planning 60 units on former river Valley Community College campus

An affiliate of Keene Housing is proposing affordable housing at 438 Washington St.

The Monadnock Affordable Housing Corporation, an affiliate of Keene Housing, has been granted waivers by the Keene Zoning Board of Adjustment to begin conceptualizing the development of 60 units of affordable housing on the former River Valley Community College campus.

Keene Housing Executive Director Joshua Meehan said this project is in the very early phases, but that getting its March 6 request to the zoning board approved was a big first step.

To move forward with the project, the organization needed the board to approve variances and a special exception. The parcel of land was zoned in such a way that only a single-family home could be placed on it. Meehan approached the board to request allowing more housing units on that piece of land than would otherwise be permitted. The property, at 438 Washington St., was also formerly Roosevelt School, part of the Keene School District.

“We’re very grateful to the ZBA for granting us those variances and that special exception because now we can move to the point where we can really start design work and go through the planning process with the city,” he said.

It would be a two-phase project, Meehan said, with the first part focusing on the school building’s renovation and the second looking to add onto it to make more space. Both parts of the project would create 30 units each that, once completed, would be available for people in the community.

The units will be primarily one bedrooms, according to Meehan. At this time, 45 units — or 75 percent — are expected to be one-bedroom units, while the other 15 units — or 25 percent — will have two bedrooms.

“That is really a reflection of the demand that we see on our waiting list,” Meehan said.

There are 1,344 unique applicants waiting for the 600 units that currently exist, 72 percent of whom are waiting for a studio or one-bedroom apartment, according to ZBA meeting minutes.

Based on the demand, Meehan added this typically means that there are a large number of elderly or people with disabilities who are looking for housing.

The idea is that the first floor of units will be fully accessible for people with mobility impairments and include accommodations such as roll-in showers. He expects the second-floor units will also be fully accessible, but not feature roll-in showers.

Monadnock Affordable Housing Corp. is a nonprofit organization; Keene Housing is unable to be a nonprofit organization because it needs funds for different types of transactions, such as real estate or funding applications. By being a nonprofit, the Monadnock organization is eligible for different types of funding and aid.

Meehan said it’s hard to know what the cost will be. At this stage, the organization is actively looking for a construction manager — someone who would help work with architects and engineers to pin down what the budget will look like.

The parcel of land is not yet owned by the organization because Meehan said no purchase will be made until project plans are more concrete and there is a design. After the design phase, planning will take place with the city and permits will be requested. After gaining funds, Meehan hopes the project will begin in 2024.

He speculated it will cost around $22.5 million, and the organization will pursue funding for the project.

“When you try and build affordable housing in the United States, you shake as many trees as you have available to you,” Meehan said.

The largest source of money will likely come from the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which is facilitated by the IRS and is administered locally by the N.H. Housing Finance Authority.

In the summer, the organization will apply for tax credits. After that point, private groups invest in the project and they get a tax break in exchange for making those contributions, Meehan said. Many affordable housing opportunities are built through this program, he added.

Money to fill in the gaps will come from various funding sources. It’s too early to know exactly which ones will help, Meehan said, but he expects the Community Development Block Grant Program is a possible source. Additionally, InvestNH, which is a state program that deploys federal funds for the development of affordable housing, could also be an option.

“There is a profound lack of housing across all incomes, but in particular for lower income people,” Meehan said. “And then especially for lower income people who are getting older or have a disability. We’re really touched to see all the support that came out at the Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting.”

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