The current housing shortage in Hannover has a high cost for our community. Both Dartmouth and Hanover must be part of the solution.

by Elizabeth Chun | 06/12/22 04:05

This article is featured in the special issue Commencement & Reunions 2022.

The city of Hanover – and the Upper Valley in general – has long suffered from a severe shortage of affordable housing. Indeed, a 2021 study by Keys to the Valley, an Upper Valley housing organization, has found that the Upper Valley is expected to need an additional 10,000 homes to meet its growing housing demand by 2030. Not only does this housing shortage pose a threat to the economy of Hannover by preventing workers from finding housing, but it is also detrimental to the social mobility of low-income families and prevents Hannover from flourishing into an inclusive and economically integrated community. To that end, we as a community must act to solve this housing crisis. Additionally, as the owner of many promising properties for development, Dartmouth must be at the center of the solution.

In the past, there have been various attempts to address the housing shortage in Hannover, such as relaxing restrictive zoning and regulations in areas already served by expensive infrastructure, such as water and sewage, but which could be put to much better use than they are now. . More recently, Section 11 – a residential housing ordinance – was passed at the City of Hanover’s annual meeting in early May, which is expected to increase housing capacity on West Wheelock Street by allowing for more extensive redevelopment and higher density use.

This type of progress is undoubtedly an important step in the fight against the housing shortage in Hannover. In fact, the increase in housing on West Wheelock Street is expected to open housing to 329 more people – enough to house all of the Dartmouth College students who do not get on-campus housing each year. Nonetheless, these zoning relaxations must be coupled with concerted efforts to also begin building housing on currently undeveloped properties. After all, Hannover is a center of residential and economic activity in the Upper Valley, and its already developed areas can only be built up to a certain extent while avoiding overcrowding. We need to look to new housing areas.

Who is responsible for leading these initiatives? Part of the responsibility certainly lies with the city of Hanover. It is up to the city to ensure that Hannover is an economically prosperous and socially inclusive community. But more subtly, part of the responsibility also lies with the College. A little-known reality is that Dartmouth has many empty or underutilized properties in Hanover that are ideal for future development – ​​including the Rivercrest property, Lyme Road and the Sullivan/Gibson plots (also known as Sand Hill) . While all of these areas could be potential locations for new housing, it would not be possible to develop them without Dartmouth’s approval and cooperation. Although Dartmouth has proposed various plans to use this land to build new dormitories that will help address its own student housing shortage, many of these plans, such as a proposed undergraduate housing development on Lyme Road South, are far from ideal. Students don’t want to travel to the site and many townspeople don’t want the land developed at all.

Thus, I believe that Dartmouth and the City of Hanover should establish a public-private partnership and consider plans to develop the aforementioned Dartmouth-owned land – not into student dormitories, but into housing for Hanover residents. Although Dartmouth owns these lands, the assistance and resources provided by the City of Hanover will lead to the development of more comprehensive, expert-based plans and enable better engagement with the city’s hesitant residents. It is essential that the inhabitants of the city feel that any new development is done with their needs in mind and not imposed from above. Ultimately, Dartmouth properties will be put to good use – better than creating student dormitories too far from campus.

City dwellers may still object that they do not want these lands to be developed. Indeed, many are keen to maintain Hannover’s rural charm and aesthetic. However, there are ways to maintain the rural character while building housing. For example, dimensional and aesthetic standards can regulate the layout, lot size and exterior appearance of new homes to match older styles. Another objection is that Dartmouth itself may not be interested in having its lands developed — even if it receives compensation for such development. After all, doing nothing with your land right now preserves the possibility of being able to do something more attractive with it later.

Even so, the reality is that Dartmouth has something to gain too. Building residential housing on underutilized properties in Dartmouth that are slightly farther from campus will help ease the student housing crisis in Dartmouth by reducing competition between students and residents for space near the Dartmouth campus. This solution will also help Dartmouth attract and retain the young faculty and scholars it needs to grow its long-term university programs. After all, it is not possible to teach in Hannover if you cannot live in the area. But perhaps more importantly, I urge Dartmouth to realize the immediacy of Hannover’s current housing shortage. Addressing this housing shortage is imperative for Hannover’s economic and social mobility. Although the solution is not simple, Dartmouth’s cooperation is not only an important starting point, but an integral part.