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Beware the back of the room

By Casey Holt - managing partner of Ideabenders | Nov 3, 2019

I read the recent article regarding the opposition at “the back of the room” to affordable housing, with interest and a bit of chagrin.

Funny thing is, unless they were born lucky, most of those people at the back of the room probably spent some portion of their early adult lives in affordable housing, whether in a roommate share, a studio apartment, a few rooms on the second floor of a converted old house, in one of the (formerly?) more affordable complexes scattered around Nashua (long-termers know the ones I refer to), or in what they might now think of as a “sketchy” neighborhood.

Did they grow up to be problematic? I’m sure they don’t think so.

But they have. They are contributing to an unnecessary class divide that likely separates them from some pretty amazing people. And from people who have just as much right to a decent life and a chance for future success and domestic comfort as many of the rest of us enjoy.

I live much of the year in Prague, in a building best described as economically diverse: 24 apartments in a five-storey building, ranging from 400-square-foot studio layouts to 1,200-sqaure-foot flats with multiple bedrooms and baths. (Mine is a 700-sqare-foot one bedroom with a small patio balcony.)

There are retirees, blue collar workers and families in some of the smaller ones; wealthier retirees, expats and white collar folks in some of the bigger ones, and several foreign students sharing the largest apartment in the building. The buildings joined together to form our big Baroque block are inhabited in much the same way, some with retail, restaurants and services on their ground floors.

Guess what? We all get along fine, greet each other in the hallways, marvel at the occasional smells of ethnic foods cooking and occasionally socialize with each other, within and without our economic and educational levels. (Trust me, the guys with public works jobs make very motivating cycling companions.) Not once in six years have I heard a ruckus or encountered a problem in my building, or on my block, or even in my area.

Here, I own a three-family in the historic district, a house that even has a name, but is actually very near to a fair amount of lower-income and subsidized housing. My rents appear to be under market. So be it – I am not greedy, the rents cover my costs, my tenants are delightful and my neighborhood is pretty much problem-free (as far as I know).

My experiences of both cities is that, though Prague is much larger, it is much the same as Nashua socio-economically. I am not shy about telling people I split time between one of the most calm and beautiful cities in the world, and the most robust city in the most awesome state in the USA, small but amazingly powerful. (And much of Nashua’s power is derived from its arts community, whose members usually generate substantially less income than the tech, real estate and financial sectors here, but contribute far more to our quality of life.)

So, back-of-the-room naysayers, stay home, please, and give everyone else the same chances in life you got.

And you front-of-the-room members of planning and zoning offices and boards, unless there is some egregious conflict that precludes the addition of residential buildings and developments that are potentially more affordable, get ’em off the table and into the market. Whiners at the back don’t count, and they seem to forget that a lot of the folks who might benefit are mowing their lawns, cleaning their pools, picking up their trash, fixing their cars, cutting their hair, serving them food, teaching their kids, interning at their tech start-ups and generally making life more tolerable and even enjoyable for everyone.

Casey Holt, a writer and the managing partner of Ideabenders, an advertising/marketing firm with offices in Nashua and Prague, has lived in several locations around Nashua, since 1968.

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