Coordination, commitment save North Country community

It took six years and too many disappointments, meetings, studies and applications to count, but the members of Deanbrook Village Cooperative in Northumberland can finally take a deep breath.

Their community is going to survive.

Back in 1988, Deanbrook’s residents formed a cooperative and bought their manufactured-housing park. They were pioneers, the ninth of what are now 101 resident-owned communities in New Hampshire.

Deanbrook Co-op board chair Barry Colebank
"We faced potential failure of our systems," said board chair Barry Colebank. Geoff Forrester Photography

Cooperative ownership of manufactured-housing communities means that homeowners own their houses, but the land beneath them belongs to the co-op. Residents pay rent to the co-op, as they did to the previous owner; the difference is that they decide how the money is spent.

By 2006, those decisions had become impossible. The community’s aging water, sewage, electrical, and cable TV lines were all crumbling. Water main breaks and electrical outages were frequent.

“We faced potential serious failure of our systems,” said Deanbrook board chair Barry Colebank.

Making matters worse, the lines were buried under a mile-long gravel road that had eroded. Ice accumulated in the winter, making it a slippery and dangerous drive. While supporting the Cooperative’s desire for improvements, Northumberland selectmen balked at paying to fix the town-owned road if the work was just going to be torn up again for the infrastructure repairs.

Deanbrook is a modest park. Three-fifths of its households were classified as “very low income” or “poverty” level even before the town’s largest employer, Wausau Paper, closed in 2007. The monthly co-op rent for each household was $200. If the co-op had to pay for all the repairs, rent would increase $500 a month. Hardly anyone at Deanbrook could afford that.

The project that could have meant the end of Deanbrook Cooperative is instead a cause for celebration. On a sunny afternoon in mid-June, community members were joined by local, state and federal officials and representatives of companies involved in the project as they celebrated breaking ground on the $1.43-million project.

Deanbrook’s board of directors worked for years with Lynn Booth, the Community Loan Fund’s Community Project Coordinator, to find funding for the multi-stage project. In the end, they received what they needed from the federal government: loans and grants totaling $933,000 from the Dept. of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, which included a significant portion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $497,000 from a Community Development Block Grant through the NH Community Development Finance Authority.

“We could not have done the project without the funding package,” said Colebank. “Eventually it would have become uninhabitable here and we would have lost this community.”

A significant portion of that funding will stay in the North Country. Jeremy Hiltz Excavating of Ashland and Ray’s Electric of Berlin are contractors on the project, and the companies are using local vendors such as Carroll Concrete and Ace Hardware.

Actual work on the project began last fall and resumed in May, 2012. The project is expected to be completed by late September.