Alumni Profiles

Home Remedy
An affordable housing advocate helps build strong communities

Bookmark and Share
Easy to print version

Lisa Fisher Henderson '97 feels lucky. She and her husband, Paul, who is a teacher, live in a small cul-de-sac neighborhood in Newmarket, N.H. The street is lined with snug capes and bungalows tucked close together. Her young son has playmates close by. There's a real sense of community. "Most people we know are like us," says Henderson, "people with modest salaries who are working hard to make ends meet. They want to stay in the area and are committed to their jobs. But affording a place to live can be really tough."

Which is why Henderson is so passionate about her job as director of the Workforce Housing Coalition in the Seacoast region of Maine and New Hampshire. People are being priced out of the area, she says, and once that starts happening, you have more than an affordable housing crisis. "It's really an economic development issue," she says. "If employers can't attract the workers they need, the whole region is affected."

Unlike some other parts of the country, where home prices have plummeted, the Seacoast has seen a dip of only 3.5 percent. The median selling price is $270,000, down $8,000 from a year ago. And rents, too, remain high.

Creating more affordable housing can be an uphill battle, Henderson acknowledges, recalling the 10 years she spent working for the Housing Partnership, a nonprofit affordable-housing developer. "Whenever that organization tried to propose an affordable housing development, they encountered the 'not in my back yard' response," she says. This experience prompted the launch of the Workforce Housing Coalition, a group of business, municipal and community leaders working to promote the idea of affordable housing.

Now an independent organization, the coalition works with municipalities to reduce barriers and promote incentives. Legislation can help: last year's Senate Bill 342, known as the Workforce Housing Opportunities Bill, mandates that communities cannot intentionally exclude affordable housing.

"The hope is that in the next few years developers will really start to take on opportunities to build affordable workforce housing," says Henderson, who points to a recently completed development in Exeter, N.H., as proof of what's possible: an underutilized block in the center of downtown was transformed into 30 units of mixed-income housing and retail shops.

Despite many hurdles along the way, especially around parking issues, units rented quickly, and the development is being held up in housing circles as a success story. "It was integrated into the downtown so nicely," says Henderson, "and it's bringing different walks of life together."

 Easy to print version

blog comments powered by Disqus