Rebuilding Manchester’s Middle Class

Community and Economic Development

Background

Most often, discussions about “jobs and the economy” overlook a vital part of the equation:  the community and its desirability as a place to live.  When I look at developing Manchester’s economy, I see it as inseparable from improving its quality of life.  The best jobs in the world are of little good to a city if the people who hold them won’t live within its borders.  Whether it’s because of schools, crime, drugs, undesirable housing, a singular focus on low income housing, homeless vagrancy or destabilized neighborhoods, Manchester, our home, is fast losing its Middle Class.

We know this from the data.

Two of every 3 children in our school is on the subsidized Free and Reduced Hot Lunch Program.  That’s a program for families in poverty.  Two out of every 3!

As reported by the NH Department of Employment Security, Manchester’s median house hold income is $60,711.  Compare that to our surrounding towns:

Community                                                     Percentage higher than Manchester

  • Derry: $76,536                                   26%
  • Hooksett: $84,568                            39%
  • Goffstown: $89,317                           47%
  • Weare:  $94,181                                 55%
  • Candia: $100,904                              66%
  • Merrimack: $107, 232                        77%
  • Londonderry: $107,868                     78%
  • Litchfield: $110,893                           83%
  • Auburn: $115,089                              90%
  • Bedford: $135,021                            122%

Nashua, our state’s second largest city, has a median household income of $74,995; 25% higher than ours in Manchester!

greater manchester median income

Here’s a hard truth.  As Manchester’s economy has grown, Middle Class families have either left the city for the surrounding towns or moved to them from other places for jobs in our city.  Let this stat sink in:  46,863 people commute into Manchester from surrounding towns to work every day.  That’s the Middle Class, and some wealthy folks, coming to work in our city from their suburban homes.

As mayor, I will be focused on building an economy AND a community that is attractive to and supportive of Middle Class families!  Here’s how we start.

Making Manchester Middle Class Friendly

Quality of Life Issues

We must first acknowledge those quality of life problems that desperately need to be fixed.  To that end, I encourage you to review my plans to:

The Master Plan—Housing

The current “Final Draft” of the proposed 2021 Master Plan is a political document that will be deadly to efforts to retain and attract Middle Class Families in Manchester.  It targets, yes targets, single family neighborhoods for “elimination” or “reduction,” calling them “monocultural.”  (That’s not a compliment.)  If this radical step is applied citywide, current single family homes would become “preexisting, nonconforming uses” under the Zoning Code.  That is also “not good” for the homeowner.

As mayor, I will not only oppose the elimination or reduction of single family neighborhoods, I will aggressively look to create more so we can have the types of homes and neighborhoods that will encourage Middle Class families to stay or settle in our city!

The proposed Master Plan pushes for more high density rental housing development, especially low income housing,subsidized by the taxpayer.  Given that these areas are the epicenters of crime in our city, to intentionally add more of them is to ask for even more crime and a larger permanent underclass.  Only 25% of the housing built in our city in the last 10 years has been single family housing.  The rest has been high density, multi-unit apartments, much of which has been specifically low income.  Now, apartments make up 60% of our housing units.  These are reasons why Middle Class families who live in Manchester are looking to the suburbs and why families moving into the area are looking to to them as well.

As mayor, I will oppose efforts to increase density and use subsidized programs that will institutionalize even more poverty in our city.  For Manchester to be a healthy, vibrant community, it must keep and attract more Middle Class families to restore demographic balance.

The Master Plan—Development

The proposed plan presents many obstacles to development.  Aside from the fact that there is little to no analysis of areas where the highest and best use of the land is in question, because of how things like traffic and development have impacted the utility and value of land, this proposal expands the imposition of “green” requirements that will simply make development unnecessarily more difficult and expensive.

As mayor, I will will strongly oppose the imposition of so called “green” regulations that needlessly increase the cost and hassle of development, including on existing properties that have been around for decades and I will push to assess the highest and best use of land in areas that have fundamentally changed over time.

The Master Plan—Impact of COVID

The proposed Master Plan seems to have entirely missed the impact of COVID-19 on everything from how people “go to work” to “how they shop.”  Other than suggesting “Innovations in Curbside Management,”(???) it is silent on how the city should anticipate and assess the challenges and opportunities that will likely exist as significant numbers of people continue to work remotely and shop on-line from home.  There was no assessment as to the viability of retail or office complexes in light of COVID-19 nor was their any discussion of regulatory changes that might be prudent in light of the growing number of people working from home.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the private sector is already adapting to the changes, as can be seen in the recent newspaper articles below.  Frankly, our approach ought to be to let private developers meet market demands not use government dictates or programs and taxpayer dollars to determine what kind of housing will be built.

Downtown Manchester building pitched as 43 apartments

Apartment building with 260 units planned for downtown Manchester

As mayor, I will assemble a task force to review these matters, anticipate areas where challenges or opportunities may arise and identify potential regulatory chances that will allow for adaptive reuses for retail and office areas that are no longer viable and improve people’s ability to work from home, so long as doing so will not impact the residential character of the neighborhood.

Making Manchester Business Friendly

Our city’s reputation as a place that’s difficult to do business precedes itself.  It’s a deterrent to existing and new businesses alike.  We’ve all have heard the stories.  Many reading this will have lived them.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  With 21% of our jobs in low wage industries like retail sales and hospitality, the more businesses friendly we are, the better we’ll be at attracting businesses with jobs that sustain Middle Class families.  As mayor, here are the areas I’ll address directly to change that.

The Planning Board

By city ordinance, the mayor is an ex-officio member of the Planning Board.  As mayor, I will sit in that seat personally to send several strong messages.

  • First, to the members of the board, that they are to treat all that come before them with professionalism, dignity and respect.  I have seen one too many board members at one too many meetings treat applicants with disrespect, even abuse.  It has to stop!  Those who come before the Planning Board aren’t an enemy of the city and shouldn’t be treated as such.  Click here for an email that provides an example of the kind of abuse that needs to stop.  (Note, the identity of the sender has been redacted to protect their privacy.)
  • Second, to developers, that their work is welcomed and respected in our city.  This doesn’t mean they’ll be rubber stamped to do whatever they want.  It means they’ll be listened to and treated fairly in a timely manner.
  • Third, to the residents of our city, that their mayor, for whom they vote, won’t wash his hands on the sometimes difficult questions that come before the planning board and will ensure that their concerns gain a fair hearing.

As mayor, I will also insist that the public gets full and complete access to all materials presented by any applicant.  The practice of new material being brought to the meeting must end.  Last minute information is not fair to neighborhoods.  I will also require this of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  In addition, I will make sure that agendas are published on-line, with all supporting documents, at least one week in advance of any hearing at either board.

Appointments

The mayor, with the approval of the Board of Aldermen, appoints all members of the Planning Board who aren’t ex-officio and all members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  As mayor, I will seek qualified applicants with relevant backgrounds in land use or development.  It helps when the people making decisions are knowledgeable about the subject matter.

Regulatory Reform and Enforcement

We need to improve everything from the mindset and attitude of our code-enforcement personnel to the inspection process people have to go through.

The process is needlessly adversarial when people want to cooperate and inexplicably weak when there’s clear violations.  The hours of operation should reflect the needs of the citizenry and the situation, not the desires of any department.  Customer service training at all levels of enforcement is in order.

It is also my belief that every inspector the city hires should have significant and relevant experience in the private sector.  Regulators who haven’t walked in the shoes of the regulated are often dismissive of the hardships their dictates impose.  As mayor, I will cause these positions to be reviewed so that the “relevant experience” qualification is included in a meaningful way.

City codes need to respect and adjust for the fact that our city is heavily populated by very old buildings.  Nearly one third (1/3) our housing was built before 1939!  We also have a substantial number of commercial/industrial buildings, millions of square feet, built in the same time frame.  We need codes that will enable them to be made safe without treating them as if they were built in modern times.

As mayor, I will form a task force that will review the codes for their appropriateness to our city’s historic buildings, study the assessment of “impact fees” on existing properties when the number of bedrooms is not increased in a residential property and reduce or eliminate of permit fees on projects designed to rehabilitate space in our older houses and commercial/industrial properties.

Business Visitation Program

As Mayor, I will launch an initiative to proactively communicate with our city’s businesses and property owners.  Using a simple survey to inquire about their needs, suggestions and perceptions of the city, we will collect useful data that will allow us to respond accordingly to our business community.  This will also help establish a direct line of communication between those visited and the city so that when problems or questions arise, they know who to call.

This was done successfully in the early 1990s in a joint effort with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.  A combination of city staff and business people from the Chamber participated.  Hundreds of businesses were successfully visited.

Manchester Economic Development Office (MEDO)

Mayor Joyce Craig has left this office unstaffed and vacant since December, 2019!  Yet, it remains the  office of “community contact” on the NHDES Web site.

As mayor, I will staff this office and task it with the following initial responsibilities:

  • Establishing and administering the Business Visitation Program.  This is especially important since studies have shown that 80% of a community’s job growth comes from businesses already in the community.
  • Assisting businesses trying to recover from the COVID shutdowns.
  • Developing and maintaining an online directory of locally owned and operated businesses to provide a useful directory for shoopers and businesss alike.  (Note:  Those included in the directory would be expected to pay for being included.  Think of it as sort of a modern day Yellow Pages.)
  • Establish this office as both the place where businesses go to learn what they have to do to open or expand and guides them through the process.

As mayor, I am committed to acting on all that is included in this proposal.  Manchester must lower crime, increase test scores and improve its business, development and neighborhood climates if it is to once again become a Middle Class city; a place where people want to raise their families because they live in neighborhoods that have the kind of housing they want, streets that are safe, schools that are excellent and choices that are abundant in all things that make a city worth living in!

The work to make this happen isn’t glamorous but it is necessary.  With your help it can, and will, be done!

Believe in Better! 

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