The Gile Community Housing
has its sights trained on smart growth and
affordable housing in the upper valley
By Bruce Wood
How do you explain a landmark affordable housing
initiative in only about 1,000 words?
How do you make a largely affluent, Ivy League
community understand what it is like to spend up to
half your monthly income—or more—trying desperately
to keep a roof over your kids’ heads with virtually
no hope of ever having a place you can call your
How do you get this community to appreciate that a
clustered, affordable-home community for people of
mixed incomes will benefit not just those who live
in it, but also the economic, environmental, and
social well being of the entire Upper Valley region?
Spreading that gospel is one of the roles of Len
Cadwallader, executive director of Vital
Communities, a regional nonprofit organization that
advocates for the development of affordable housing
in the Upper Valley. Listen as he explains how the
Gile Community Housing Project, which is developing
a neighborhood of 120 much-needed housing “units” in
Hanover for people in a wide range of economic
situations, is a win-win proposition.
Many people are forced to
commute 30, 40, & 50 miles to work in the Upper
“Why does it matter?” Cadwallader asks rhetorically.
“It matters on a lot of levels. It makes economic
sense to get people living closer to where the jobs
are. If the lowest-income-earning people have the
longest commutes, it’s an indirect and unfair tax
burden on them to expect them to pay for all that
commuting. Every single business owner knows in his
or her gut that this is an issue that needs to be
addressed because if we don’t address the housing
crunch we’ve lost the game for a healthy economy in
this area. Businesses that can’t find workers will
And yet it’s more than that, according to
“You want good, compassionate people taking care of
you at the hospital, or at the reference desk at the
library, or coaching your kids in Little League and
basketball. Not all of them are doctors or lawyers
who can afford to live here,” Cadwallader says. “The
bottom line is, you want good people who aren’t
earning a lot of money able to live close to where
the jobs are, and the jobs are in Lebanon and
He’s right. The jobs are there. And affordable
housing, to an alarming extent, isn’t.
$500,000 is the median price
of a house in Hanover.
According to Anne Duncan Cooley, executive director
of the Upper Valley Housing Coalition, affordable
housing means paying 30 percent or less of your
income on housing. That means a family making less
than $70,000 a year shouldn’t spend more than
$170,000 on a home. With the median price for a
house in Hanover around $500,000 and the median
condominium around $300,000, many people are forced
to commute 30, 40, and 50 miles to work at Dartmouth
College, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and
other employers in the immediate area.
“We did a study in 2001 that said we are 3,000
(housing) units short,” says Duncan Cooley. “I don’t
know if that has gone up, but I can pretty
confidently say there’s a significant gap between
the need and what’s been built since then.”
Three housing development projects in three
different communities are at different stages of
addressing that need. The Grange project in
Woodstock, the “Agway” initiative in Norwich, and
Gile in Hanover are all meant to allow more people
who work in the heart of the Upper Valley to live
The Gile Community may well be the first to break
ground, as early as late this winter or next spring.
It will consist of a cluster of about 15 one, two-
and three-bedroom apartments, townhouses, and
condominiums (most will be two-bedroom) situated on
a 22-acre parcel of land off the north access road
to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on the
Hanover–Lebanon line. Half of the units will be
rental; half will be for sale. Some will be sold at
“market rate,” allowing others to be priced
according to income level. The hope is to have some
of the units available by the spring of 2008.
According to Bruce Pacht, executive director of the
Twin Pines Housing Trust, the nonprofit organization
that is co-developing Gile and that will manage it,
the project not only addresses a need, but does so
in an environmentally and socially responsible
manner. The other co-developer is the Burlington
based Hartland Group.
“Our idea is to create a community,” Pacht says. “A
community of people with mixed incomes living in
different situations. Single families. People with
children. People without children.
“It’s near shopping and everything else and is on a
public bus line. This is the way communities, I
think, are going to need to be built in the future.
There isn’t enough land for everybody to own a big
house on 10 acres. We are going to have to learn to
live a little closer together and figure out how to
do that in an appropriate and dignified way that
respects the environment. We think (the Gile
Community) will do that.”
Affordable housing means
spending 30% or less on housing
Duncan Cooley is excited by what a visit to the
site, preliminary drawings, and a little imagination
tell her about what Gile will look like when the
two-and-a-half-year building schedule is completed.
“There are a lot of big rocks and trees on the
property,” she says. “What they have tried hard to
do is to keep that nice environment and site the
houses around it. So it’s not going to be a
development where every tree gets cut down and
everything is leveled out. It won’t be cookie
cutter, but will be tailored to the site. When you
walk around it you’ll notice that.
“You don’t have to do a lot of landscaping because
the landscaping is already there,” she continued.
“It’s going to seem like a neighborhood that has
been there for a while.”
A mixed income neighborhood that defeats all the
stereotypes of “affordable housing,” Gile will be
the first of its kind not only in the Upper Valley,
but in the entire region.
“You don’t have to stand by the side of I-91 to
realize that there’s an awful lot of people
commuting into this job core,” says Cadwallader.
“That’s a market force that needs a place to live.
“By taking the pieces of public land or land that
has been overlooked by the private market and
thinking about how they can be utilized to the
benefit of the entire community, we can protect that
and build affordable housing. The Gile Community is
a perfect example.”