Community visits explore approaches to addressing the housing crisis

  • Nate Bernitz addresses the group at the Gateway at Exeter development site

    Nate Bernitz addresses the group at the Gateway at Exeter development site.

  • Gateway at Exeter development 3-D rendering

    Gateway at Exeter development 3-D rendering.

  • Small groups problem-solving in Exeter town hall

    Small groups discussing housing challenges and solutions in Exeter town hall.

  • Darren Winham leads walking tour of downtown Exeter

    Darren Winham leads walking tour of downtown Exeter.

  • Darren Winham pointing towards downtown Exeter in front of the group

    Darren Winham pointing towards downtown Exeter in front of the group.

On a scorching Wednesday afternoon in early June, nearly 30 housing leaders gathered to learn about Exeter’s efforts to address the housing crisis. This community visit was organized by UNH Cooperative Extension in collaboration with New Hampshire Housing and Plan NH as part of the Housing Academy program, which trains community volunteers and staff from municipalities and organizations that have received housing opportunity planning grants through InvestNH. Community visits are one way that staff and volunteers working at the local level to develop community-based housing solutions can connect on an ongoing basis to network and share lessons learned, ideas and resources. 

Exeter’s economic development director, Darren Winham, hosted the group on behalf of the town, joined by building inspector, Doug Eastman, and local developer, Tom Monahan, to share the story of a project in progress called The Gateway at Exeter, located on Epping Road in close proximity to exit 9 on Route 101. Surrounded by construction equipment and piles of aggregate building materials, attendees from cities and towns of all sizes around the state had a candid conversation with Darren, Doug and Tom about how they have approached the development of a complex mixed-use development set to feature a combination of affordable and market rate housing.  

Tom Monahan, who has also built well-known mixed-use developments in Merrimack and Nashua in recent years, shared his insights about public-private partnerships. He ensured the project would meet the needs of the community and local employers, navigating state and local zoning and development regulations, and finding creative ways to leverage InvestNH funds and other programs to increase affordable housing units. The project is poised to include 224 housing units, with a meaningful portion designated as workforce housing. 

Darren, Doug and Tom talked and answered questions about the ways that Exeter and developers like Monahan can foster productive relationships and how the project has evolved and shifted to better meet the needs of the community. Tom also shared the developer's perspective on how to make adjustments while ensuring a project is still feasible. 

The group, which included land-use board members and planning staff from cities and towns in the region, later moved out of the sun and into the historic Exeter Town Hall. Participants were divided into small groups to talk with housing leaders from other communities and organizations about what they are working on, the challenges they are experiencing, and strategies to overcome those challenges. These conversations are a mainstay of Housing Academy programs and offer dedicated space for problem solving and rich back and forth that gives people new ideas and perspectives they can use in their own work. Ideas can be focused on outreach, community engagement, innovative land use, and any number of other topics. The conversation is enhanced by the participation of those with expertise from organizations including New Hampshire Housing, the New Hampshire Office of Planning and Development, Plan NH, and UNH Cooperative Extension. 

The afternoon concluded with a walking tour of downtown Exeter that focused on housing solutions implemented in the past, worked on in the present, and planned for the future. Solutions to the housing crisis take many forms and are most successful when they are tailored to the needs and vision of the local community. That was on full display in downtown Exeter, where the downtown core boasts a diverse array of amenities and assets accentuated by thoughtfully developed housing projects. Like anywhere, there’s a balancing act between creating housing and fostering a high quality of life. And while no community is perfect, Exeter is a terrific example of a community deliberately navigating the challenges and opportunities of addressing the housing crisis.

On Exeter TV's YouTube channel, you can view a short video about the event. 

Housing Academy is part of the InvestNH Municipal Planning & Zoning Grant Program of InvestNH. Housing Academy programs are open to staff, elected officials, and volunteers from communities connected to the HOP and Navigator grant programs who are working to address the housing challenges in their communities. Learn more at  


Extension Field Specialist, Community & Economic Development
Phone: (603) 678-4576
Office: Cooperative Extension, Nesmith Hall Room 204, Durham, NH 03824