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Business leaders ask Pappas about worker housing

Reprinted courtesy of The Conway Daily Sun

CONWAY — Asked by U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) what their needs are, local outdoor recreation business leaders last Wednesday resoundingly replied they need workers and housing for said workers.

The meeting was Pappas’ first visit to the Mt. Washington Valley since being sworn in for a third term in Congress. He met with a group of nine small-business leaders at the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce office in North Conway.

U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (second from left) meets at the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce office on Jan. 18 with (from left) Victoria Laracy,  Michelle Cruz, Sabastian Wee and Tyler Ray. (DAYMOND STEER PHOTO)

While housing and staffing seemed to be the most pressing issues, the group also discussed climate change, the need for clean local energy, enhanced transportation options like rail and electric vehicles, as well as the need for better cellphone reception and internet availability.

In attendance were Chamber President Rob Clarke, Chamber Executive Director Michelle Cruz, Tyler Ray of Granite Outdoor Alliance, Sabastian Wee of Drive Brand Studio, Lisa and Paul McCoy of Mt. Washington Auto Road/Great Glen Trails, Jessyca Keeler of Ski New Hampshire, and Sara Thomson of Gorham Bike and Ski.

“For me, it’s always important to get the feedback into what’s going on, especially when it comes to an industry as crucial for New Hampshire travel and tourism as outdoor recreation is,” said Pappas.

Pappas said Congress is moving slowly to reorganize following November’s elections. He hopes to return to the transportation and veterans committees.

Paul McCoy said he employs seasonal workers. “We’re really fortunate, great crews here, but housing was really a desperate situation for them,”  he said, adding, “We have a guy that drives up from Concord to work and he sleeps on our floor often or if we have an open bed. So local housing is kind of another concern I have that doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”

Pappas said he understands some housing projects are being constructed but not enough to make a dent.

Clarke, of Bartlett, said even his 15-year-old son is deeply concerned about the lack of housing because one of his friends had to move to Berlin for a time.

“My neighbor’s house went on the market on a Tuesday, was sold for $100,000 over a list price by a Friday in cash,” said Clarke, adding the sale happened two weeks ago.

Wee said he was lucky to find a place in the valley. About two years ago, he almost got a place on Seavey Street but it was sold to someone from Boston who bought it for over asking price.

“Now they’ve torn down the house and are rebuilding it to buy something bigger,” said Wee. “So, when they put that on sale, it will be you know, $400,000 and no one else can afford it up here.”

Pappas says he encourages towns to look at zoning to see what can be done to spur housing developments as well providing educational opportunities to help people get into trades.

“All the federal tax credits and grants in the world aren’t going to solve the problem,” said Pappas. “It really is a whole of government response.”

Pappas said the state is about 20,000 housing units short of what it needs, and the problem is most acute in the North Country.

Ray asked about short-term rentals and whether the folks in Washington are focused on it at all.

“It’s a trillion-dollar business that is here in the valley. It’s not just Johnny down the street with the second home,” said Ray.

Pappas said he hasn’t seen Congress put serious effort into addressing STRs, but he could check again and see what’s being filed.

“In terms of the force of private equity buying up properties, that really has driven up costs, and is not helpful to the overall housing picture, and I think there’s growing interest in taking look at that federally,” said Pappas.

Cruz and other participants also talked about the need to educate tourists on how to recreate responsibly and “leave no trace” on the trails. They also touted the chamber’s initiative to promote hiring outdoor recreation guides for activities like fishing and kayaking.

Ray asked if the federal government is looking at creating subsidies to help employers offer subsidized housing. He said the problem has been festering for years.

“This discussion of housing and workforce and how they work in tandem,” said Ray, “we’ve been talking about this for a long time.”

Pappas said some employers are already providing employees with housing in resort areas around the country. He also agreed that Congress could spur more of that.

“Absolutely, using the tax code as a way to incentivize those types of partnerships is something that could help us here in New Hampshire,” said Pappas. “So we will go back and check out what legislation is available there. And if there’s anyone that we can work with in Washington.”

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