Multiple Lebanon housing projects to be completed in the upcoming year
Among the projects is a 309 unit apartment complex targeted towards Dartmouth graduate students, for which leasing will begin this month.
A rendering of incoming residential apartments in Lebanon by contractor Michaels Student Living.
Following long-standing complaints from the Lebanon community about the Upper Valley’s chronic housing shortage, and after only 667 new units of housing were constructed in Lebanon between 2010 and 2019, Lebanon is ramping up new construction on multiple major projects.
“The City of Lebanon, like the rest of the Upper Valley, has a significant need for housing at all levels, especially as a result of the influx of new residents to the Upper Valley,” councilor Doug Whittlesey, a member of Lebanon’s city council, wrote in an emailed statement to The Dartmouth.
Among these construction projects are 309 residential apartments targeted at Dartmouth graduate students, according to Kristina Vagen, vice president of student development at the contractor Michaels Student Living. These apartments were approved by the city of Lebanon planning board in June 2020, with general site work commencing in Sept. 2020 and construction starting in Jan. 2022.
The apartments are composed of four residential buildings, three with 76 units — containing 157 beds — each and one with 81 units with 167 beds. The property is located just south of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and Centerra, a business park in Lebanon.
“A soft opening and information session [was] held for the Graduate Student Council on [Nov. 9] and it will be fully operational to commence leasing for the Fall 2022 academic year this month,” Vagen wrote in an emailed statement to The Dartmouth.
According to Vagen, two of the residential buildings will be ready for occupancy on March 1, with the other two ready on or before Aug. 19. Construction on the apartment complex’s clubhouse was completed in October 2021.
However, there are some caveats to the accessibility of this housing, according to Dartmouth graduate student council vice president and computer science PhD candidate Charlie Carver. Carver said that Dartmouth graduate students do have priority for the housing, but “the priority window is January to May, and most [graduate] students don’t know that they’re going to even come to Dartmouth until April.”
He added that students who don’t seek out housing right away are likely to miss this cutoff, and the leasing process then moves into a “waterfall method” of priority groups — including DHMC employees, post-doctoral students and eventually residents of the rest of the Upper Valley.
“If you’re a [graduate] student that applies after that May cut off, your application is considered after whoever is in the next priority group,” Carver said. “There’s a very real possibility that it’s going to get filled up by [non-graduate] students quickly, in which case it’s not going to help the [graduate] student housing situation at all.”
In addition to priority windows, Carver added that another issue is that the new housing’s prices are above the median rent in Hanover for a one bedroom for graduate students, some of whom are already spending over 55% of their stipends just on rent alone according to a benefits ad-hoc committee report from Sept. 2021.
“It’s not very affordable,” Carver said. “Yes, it adds more beds, and that’s great, but only if the beds can actually go to grad students, which I’m not convinced is going to happen.”
Carver added that the housing in North Park residential cluster — the only College housing graduate students had in Hanover — is now “completely gone” due to new construction and renovations, and the College has not announced plans to return the apartments to grad students.
“I'm really worried about first-year [graduate] students and first-year international students,” he said, noting that they are the students who rely on accessibility to campus the most due to being unfamiliar with the area and potentially lacking access to a car.
In addition to these new units allocated to Dartmouth graduate students, 11 projects totaling to 880 units have been approved by the Lebanon planning board since the beginning of 2019, and currently, 398 of those units are under construction, Lebanon planning and development director David Brooks explained.
These include one project restricted to seniors over the age of 62, and another project targeted toward income-restricted housing. The rest will be market-rate units available to the general population, Brooks said.
Brooks explained that four projects are currently under construction and expected to be completed during 2022, and at least two other projects are expected to start construction in early 2022, with plans to finish by 2023 or later.
Along with these approved projects, there is an additional project with 204 units currently under review and at least three more still in the “conceptual stage.” Brooks said that he believes these units “will begin to address parts of the documented housing shortage in the Upper Valley region.”
Whittlesey added that he hopes the additional units will “have a mitigating effect on the supply and demand imbalance and stabilize pricing.” A recent report found that the Upper Valley has some of the state’s highest housing costs and strictest zoning laws.
“I recognize that additional units [don’t] directly and immediately equate to affordable and workforce housing,” Whittlesey. “While the new units will certainly alleviate part of the overall housing pressure, we need to look at affordability. This is an Upper Valley issue, not just a City of Lebanon issue.”