The Hippo


Apr 23, 2019








Where rail plans stand now

Since lawmakers voted against fronting the full bill for the next stage of development, officials are looking at options that would more closely mirror the public-private partnership that led to the redevelopment of the Hooksett rest areas. Democratic Executive Councilors Colin Van Ostern and Chris Pappas proposed a plan that would have private developers build the four train stations (two in Manchester and two in Nashua), charge $6 a day for station parking, and create a tax district so the rail helps pay for itself. After the federal and Massachusetts investment, New Hampshire would be on the hook to pay $5 million each year. 

Home stations
How commuter rail would affect the housing market

By Ryan Lessard

Residential properties close to proposed rail stations in Nashua and Manchester that would connect commuters to the Boston area would likely see values jump if the stations are built, experts say. 

Positive impacts
Much has been made of the potential economic impacts of a new commuter rail from Boston through Lowell up to Manchester. Firms commissioned to study those impacts report that the new corridor would spur new development, create jobs, drive municipal revenues and grow the local economy in general. And it seems home values would likely get a boost too.
“Besides the addition of jobs, new commercial square footage and new housing, the property values within a half a mile of the rail station, or the multi-mobile station, as we’re calling them, would increase substantially,” said David Preece, the executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission. “That’s kind of the rule of thumb of what we’ve seen with other developments when passenger rail was introduced or reintroduced into a community.”
Studies of how housing markets were affected by new rail systems in other parts of the country seem to largely support this. 
One study by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found that the introduction of rail transit in parts of California, New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania raised property values to homes close to stations by between about 4 and 38 percent compared to similar homes farther away.
Dean Christon, the executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, says this spike in values is a function of increased demand because people want to live close to train stations.
“The farther you get from the rail line, the less impact it has, obviously,” Christon said.
The demand for New Hampshire housing property would likely be driven by people looking to work in Massachusetts, he said.
“It is likely that an improvement in the ability of people to get from, say, Manchester to the job market in northern Massachusetts would cause an increase in the demand for housing. So you probably would see additional pressure on the housing markets. In the short term, that could actually mean that prices would go up for both rental housing and for single-family housing,” Christon said.
Whether that’s a net positive for the housing market, Christon is unsure. It would more likely benefit those looking to sell properties close the rail stations rather than those competing to buy. 
“It’s only going to have an impact on the housing market if it actually encourages people who are now living in, say, northern Massachusetts to come live here, because it’s now easier for them to commute,” Christon said.
While no one knows with 100 percent certainty how housing prices will be affected by a new commuter rail line, the impact of major transportation routes has precedent in New Hampshire.
“Just a couple years ago, we did a series of focus groups and we talked about the dynamics of the real estate market. One of the things we got from that was people were pretty clear that it was easier to sell a house and the value of houses were stronger the closer you were to the 93 corridor, for instance, and/or the route 3 corridor,” Christon said.
Debbie Gallant, president of sales at Berkshire Hathaway Verani Realty, is confident rail will be a good thing.
“Any time that you have any type of expansion for transportation, whether it be a new roadway, whether it be the Manchester Airport or whether it be access to a new commuting route, it always improves the real estate in the area,” Gallant said. “When you take a look at the Southern New Hampshire sector, it’s really a Boston bedroom community.”
Gallant commutes from Boston to New Hampshire and she used to live in Newburyport, Massachusetts, before rail reached the now popular port city.
“Once [rail] came in, real estate opportunities as well as development and people seeing that area as an option to live in increased,” Gallant said. “I think an expansion of the rail system [in New Hampshire] would be huge.”
David Preece says a new commuter rail line would also likely create the conditions for a boom in housing development. 
“If commuter rail were brought up to Manchester, which makes the most sense, there would be an additional 1,898,000 square feet of new commercial space developed and over 3,600 new residential units that will be needed in order to support this,” Preece said, citing a recent study of the project.
The study also estimates rail would add thousands of jobs.
“After the 10 years, it will be like exponential. So, this is like a Christmas that keeps on giving to the state of New Hampshire,” Preece said.
Christon is less certain the new developments will take shape so quickly.
“There are counter-pressures against that kind of growth at the local level for many reasons. So it’s not a simple process,” Christon said. 
He thinks that once that process takes its course, the initially high property values owners will likely enjoy in the short term after a rail line is put in will even out in the long run.
Christon says new demand putting pressure on home values to rise would make buying residential property a good investment “if you knew for certain that there was going to be a rail line and had a good sense of the timeline of when it was going to be there.”
Negative effects?
The Booz Allen Hamilton study says there can be negative impacts on housing markets when rail is introduced, caused by factors like noise, traffic, safety or aesthetics. 
Christon says there may be a few individual cases where property is affected negatively.
“It depends on where the rail line goes. If you have an active railway line very proximate to a residential property that didn’t used to be there, it is likely that there’s going to be some diminution of value in that particular piece of property,” Christon said. “You kind of have these two countervailing forces. You’re close to the highway, which means access is good, and that tends to improve value, but it might be a little noisier, and is that going to be a negative on the value. That’s going to be very much case by case.”
Preece is optimistic that such concerns are unfounded given current noise-cancelling technology.
“We’re talking about the 21st century. Passenger rail is not an obnoxious use,” Preece said.
While Realtors aren’t necessarily championing rail in terms of home values, they do support commuter rail itself.
“The New Hampshire Association of Realtors supports any responsible improvements to our transportation system inasmuch as it would provide an additional option for access to our great state. Anything that helps make New Hampshire a more attractive option to live and work is a win,” New Hampshire Realtors Association President Al Michalovic said in an email.

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