Concord Monitor – City Council Approves Grant for New Community Justice Center Project

Concord Monitor – City Council Approves Grant for New Community Justice Center Project

GEOFF FORESTER — Supervisory Staff

A new community justice center could house legal resources in Concord, with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, 603 Legal Aid and the Disability Rights Center looking to combine forces in a single office space.

Currently, all three providers have their own offices on N. Main Street, but the shared space would create a “civil legal services center.”

While the Concord City Council approved a $25,000 Community Development Block Grant that will allow firms to hire architects to develop a site plan, evaluate potential locations and provide cost estimates, councilors have still expressed concerns about tax-exempt properties in the city.

“I’m very concerned about what’s happening with what I’ll call the cannibalization of our commercial properties,” said Fred Keach, a county councilman.

With vacant commercial space downtown and many government and nonprofit buildings tax-exempt, Keach worries that pressure will be put on residential properties to generate tax revenue for the city. With a citywide reassessment, that will become evident, he said.

“Suddenly residential properties are valued much higher than commercial properties and that’s going to happen and it’s going to surprise a lot of people,” he said. “These are all large organizations, I don’t want to denigrate them, but the number of nonprofit properties that we have in the city is a problem.”

If the law center wanted tax-exempt status to house the three nonprofits, it would have to apply annually to local and state assessors, according to Timothy Thompson, the city’s deputy director of community development.

Councilman Nathan Fennessey said concerns about the city’s nonprofits and commercial properties are valid, but the work of these legal services to support people, particularly in housing disputes, is essential.

By supporting a new legal center, new space will appear in each of the organization’s old buildings. The city will then be able to fill those spaces with entities that will contribute to the tax base, he said.

Consolidating the three businesses into one building would allow customers to have better access to services and allow each organization to reduce costs and serve more people, the applicants wrote in their Community Development Block Grant application.

Clients of all three firms include low-income people, people with disabilities and seniors seeking help with everything from housing to domestic violence disputes.

Consolidating these resources will better help people looking for help, said Ward 3 Councillor Jennifer Kretovic.

“When we look at the most vulnerable populations in our community, we’re looking at people who need to move from one resource to another, to another, to another,” she said. “The combination of these three rights-based organizations removes a really significant barrier for someone facing significant challenges.”

The initial $25,000 community development grant will help the organizations with their initial planning as they prepare to apply for another public facilities block grant next year, according to the grant application to city council.

The center will be funded through private and public partnerships, with an initial cost estimated at between $4 million and $6 million.

As the city continues to look for solutions to Concord’s homeless problem, the council should continue to support places like the Disability Rights Center that help house people in the area, said Councilwoman Judith Kurtz.

“The best way to address homelessness is to keep people in their homes,” she said. “Supporting local organizations that help people finance their homes and stay in them when barriers arise is, in my opinion, a good use of urban space.”

Ward 4 Councillor Stacey Brown suggested asking organisations for a breakdown of how many local clients they serve.

For 9th Ward Councilman Kris Schultz, the number of nonprofits in the city is tied to Concord’s position as the state capital. Mayor Byron Champlin would agree.

“I truly appreciate the contribution that non-profit organizations make to our community, both in terms of the services they provide, the jobs they provide and the wealth they add to our community,” he said.

That doesn’t mean he’s not concerned about property values ​​in the city.

“I also have a goal of protecting the individual property taxpayer, the homeowner,” he said. “We have the highest percentage of properties that are not taxed because they are owned by nonprofits or the state of any community, any municipality in the state.”